Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed annexation treaties to illegally claim four regions it occupies in Ukraine and issued a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons to protect them.
Putin made the signing in a Kremlin ceremony, where he gave a lengthy speech, claiming the “people have made their choice” in Russian-controlled referendums that Ukraine, the United States and Western allies called a “sham.”
He said in holding on to Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk, Russia would use “all the forces and means at our disposal.”
“Nowadays we are fighting for a just and free path, first and foremost, for ourselves, for Russia,” Putin said, according to the state-run news agency TASS. “For diktat and despotism to be a thing of the past forever.
“I am convinced that countries and nations realize that the policy built on exceptionalism of whoever, on the suppression of other cultures and peoples, is inherently criminal and that we must turn this shameful page over.”
The signing comes after Ukrainian officials said on Friday that “dozens” of civilians were killed by a Russian strike while in a convoy of cars heading to pick up relatives in the city of Zaporizhzhia. Some fear the attack could be an escalation by Moscow as Putin signed the annexation order.
“The enemy launched an attack on a civilian convoy and the outskirts of the city,” said Oleksandr Starukh, the governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, according to The Guardian.
“People were standing in line to leave for the occupied territory to pick up their relatives and to deliver aid. There are dead and wounded. Emergency services are at the site. At the moment there are 23 dead and 28 wounded, all civilians.”
Meanwhile, Kyiv said its troops have captured the eastern Donetsk village of Yampil to encircle Russian and pro-Russian forces in the town of Lyman.
“Yampil is ours,” a soldier said in a brief video posted by Ukrainian troops. He is standing in front of a building with a sign that says: “Yampil school complex.” A Russian-supported Telegram channel painted a bleak picture in trying to hold onto Lyman.
“The Lyman defensive line has narrowed to the administrative boundaries of the city itself,” the channel said, according to CNN.
“If emergency measures are not taken in the near future to release the Lyman and transfer a significant part of the reserves, then the city, together with its defenders, will fall, and nothing will stop Ukrainian formations from developing an offensive deep into Russian territories.”
Russia is currently mobilizing reserves to help defend the territories it is trying to annex, even though Russia does not control any of the regions completely. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the areas Russia does not control will have “to be liberated.”
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