Nato yesterday condemned Russia’s annexation of four more regions of Ukraine and warned Moscow of “severe consequences” if it uses nuclear weapons in its war against Kyiv.
“This land grab is illegal and illegitimate. Nato allies do not and will not recognise any of this territory as part of Russia,” Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the territories occupied by his troops at a grand ceremony in the Kremlin, in a move rejected by the West and UN.
Stoltenberg insisted that Nato would continue to support Ukraine “in their efforts to liberate” the Moscow-held regions as Kyiv vows to press an offensive.
The Kremlin says it now views the annexed territory as a part of Russia and is willing to use its full arsenal to defend it.
Stoltenberg said Nato had not seen any “changes in nuclear posture” of Russia after threats from Putin.
“We are vigilant, we are sharing information, and we have conveyed very clearly to Russia that there will be severe consequences if they use nuclear forces against Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
Nato has refused to intervene militarily in the war in Ukraine for fear of unleashing a confrontation with Moscow that could spiral into nuclear war.
Nato allies have instead sent billions of dollars’ worth of arms to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Moscow’s attack.
In response to Putin’s declaration, Ukraine announced that it was formally applying to join Nato.
Stoltenberg remained non-committal on the bid, recalling that a decision on membership required “consensus” of all 30 allies.
“Our focus now is on providing immediate support to Ukraine to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian brutal invasion,” he said.
Despite the application from Kyiv, there appear few prospects of Ukraine joining Nato in the foreseeable future while it is at conflict with its giant neighbour.
Membership of Nato would mean Ukraine was covered by the alliance’s Article 5 mutual defence clause that means an attack on one member is considered an attack on all.
Stoltenberg also addressed leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines running from Russia to Europe, calling them “attacks” and backing a probe to find those responsible.
He said that Nato naval and air forces in the region showed the alliance’s “readiness to protect” its critical infrastructure.
Putin signalled he was ready to continue what he called a battle for a “greater historical Russia”, slammed the West as neo-colonial and as out to destroy his country, and without evidence accused Washington and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
The four Ukrainian regions that he said Russia was absorbing had made an historic choice, he said. “They have made a choice to be with their people, their motherland, to live with its fate, and to triumph with it. Truth is on our side. Russia is with us!” Putin told his country’s political elite, who had gathered in one of the Kremlin’s grandest halls to watch him sign the annexation documents.
“People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever,” said Putin, referring to the regions that he said Russia was annexing.
“We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means,” he said, calling on “the Kyiv regime to immediately cease hostilities and return to the negotiation table”.
He said the US had set a precedent when it had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, but stopped short of issuing new nuclear warnings against Ukraine himself, something he has done more than once in recent weeks.
The ceremony culminated in the 69-year-old leader chanting “Russia! Russia!” as he clasped the hands of the Russian-backed officials he wants to run the annexed regions, which Ukraine is fighting to win back.
Thousands of people, some of them clutching Russian flags, then packed into Moscow’s Red Square to hear celebratory pop music. Putin told the crowds: “Victory will be ours!”
President Joe Biden condemned what he called Russia’s “fraudulent attempt” to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory and said new US sanctions would hurt those who provided political or economic support to the annexation drive.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said he was only ready for peace talks if and when Russia got a new president.
In Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Russia’s garrison in the town of Lyman was in serious trouble yesterday with reports from both sides saying Russian forces were nearly surrounded.
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