MOSCOW: Russia will formally annex four regions of Ukraine its troops occupy at a grand ceremony in Moscow on Friday (today), the Kremlin has announced, after it suggested using nuclear weapons to defend the territories.

The threats from senior Russian officials have not deterred a sweeping counter-offensive from Kyiv, which has been pushing back Russian troops in the east and is edging nearer the Donetsk region city of Lyman that Moscow’s forces battered for weeks to fully capture.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the annexation would be formalised at a ceremony in the Kremlin. The Russian leader will make a “major” speech, he added.

“Tomorrow in Saint George’s Hall at the Grand Kremlin Palace at 15:00 (1200 GMT) a signing ceremony will take place on the incorporation of the new territories into Russia,” Peskov told reporters.

Zelensky warns attempts to seize any part of Ukrainian land will not be tolerated

The Kremlin-installed leaders of the four regions were gathered in the Russian capital on Thursday, a day after pro-Moscow authorities had appealed to Putin directly to integrate the territories into Russia.

Their nearly simultaneous requests to the Kremlin came after the four regions claimed residents had unanimously backed the move in hastily organised referendums that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West as illegal, fraudulent and void.

Zelensky’s warning

Ukraine after the so-called referendums said the only appropriate response from the West was to hit Russia with more sanctions and to supply Ukrainian forces with more weapons to keep reclaiming territory.

“Ukraine cannot and will not tolerate any attempts by Russia to seize any part of our land,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Wednesday.

The four territories — Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south; Don­etsk and Lugansk in the east — create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Together, all five make up around 20 per cent of Ukraine, whose forces in recent weeks have been clawing back ground.

‘Dangerous escalation’

If Russia moves ahead with its plans to annex four Ukrainian regions, it would mark a “dangerous escalation” that would jeopardise the prospects for peace in the region, the United Nations secretary general said on Thursday.

“Any decision to proceed with the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” Antonio Guterres told reporters in Washington.

“Any decision by Russia to go forwards will further jeopardize the prospects for peace,” Guterres said.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2022

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