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Putin says people of annexed Ukraine regions are 'Russia's citizens forever'

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MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday warned the West that the people of four Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions were "our citizens forever" as he prepared to formally annex them at a Kremlin ceremony.

"I want to say this to the Kyiv regime and its masters in the West: People living in the Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia (regions) are becoming our citizens forever," Putin said, adding that they had made an "unambiguous choice" to join Russia.

He urged Ukraine to sit down for talks to end the fighting but warned sternly that Russia would never surrender control of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and would protect them as part of its sovereign territory.

He accused the West of fueling the hostilities as part of its plan to turn Russia into a “colony” and a “crowd of slaves.”

The ceremony in the Kremlin’s opulent white-and-gold St. George’s Hall comes three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia that was dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a bare-faced land grab, held at gunpoint and based on lies.

Putin and his lieutenants have bluntly warned Ukraine against pressing an offensive to reclaim the regions, saying Russia would view it as an act of aggression against its sovereign territory and wouldn’t hesitate to use “all means available” in retaliation, a reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

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Asked about Russia’s plans, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that at the very least Moscow aims to “liberate” the entire Donetsk region.

The annexations are Russia's attempt to set its gains in stone, at least on paper, and scare Ukraine and its Western backers with the prospect of an increasingly escalatory conflict unless they back down — which they show no signs of doing. The Kremlin paved the way for the land grabs with “referendums,” sometimes at gunpoint, that Ukraine and Western powers universally dismissed as rigged shams.

With Ukraine vowing to take back all occupied territory and Russia pledging to defend its gains, threatening nuclear-weapon use and mobilizing an additional 300,000 troops despite protests, the two nations are on an increasingly escalatory collision course.

The Russian-backed separatist leader of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said the city is now “half-encircled” by Ukrainian forces. In comments reported by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, he described the setback as “worrying news."

”Ukraine’s armed formations," he said, "are trying very hard to spoil our celebration,” (THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)

58 Days ago