Putin chose the Kremlin's St George's Hall, the sumptuous setting reserved for grand ceremonies, to proclaim the annexation of the four occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporiyia, Donetsk and Luhansk. He did so after the publication of the results of the illegal referendums, which had no guarantees whatsoever and were considered a "farce" by the international community, and after signing the decree recognising the independence of Kherson and Zaporiyia.
"The people [of the four occupied Ukrainian regions] have made a decision, and it is a final decision," Putin told the regime's top brass. The Russian president was a long time coming, appearing after 15:00 local time (14:00 GMT). Hundreds of Moscow's political, religious and military elite waited in silence. Defence and Foreign Ministers Sergey Shoigu and Sergey Lavrov, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, the declared owner of the Wagner Group.
"They are now four new subjects of the Russian Federation", Putin proclaimed, referring to the self-styled Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics, whose independence he recognised hours before the start of the invasion of Ukraine, but also alluding to the regions of Kherson, the first Ukrainian city to fall into Russian hands, and Zaporiyia, home to Europe's largest nuclear power plant. Neither area is entirely under its control.
The Kremlin chief brought out his usual arsenal of historical revisionism and disparagement of Ukraine and the West, and mixed belligerence with emotivity as he remembered the soldiers who fell during the invasion, especially the dozen generals killed by Ukrainian forces. He asked for a minute's silence for them. According to NATO figures, the number of casualties on the Russian side has risen to 45,000.
With the flags of the fictitious republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as those of Kherson, Zaporiyia at his back, Putin again challenged his enemies: "I want them to hear it in Ukraine and also in the West: I want the people of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporiyia and Kherson to become our citizens forever".
He again invoked the right to self-determination under the UN Charter to justify annexation, the largest since World War II. The argument, however, is untenable, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres told him: "Ukraine's so-called referendums were conducted under Russian occupation and therefore cannot be considered the genuine expression of the will of the people".
The big surprise of the speech was not the announcement of annexation, but the express request to the Kiev government for the proclamation of a ceasefire. "Sit down at the negotiating table, but the will of the four new republics will not be reversed and Russia will not betray them," he said. Momentary peace in exchange for excising some 15 per cent of Ukraine's territory is Putin's offer, promising reconstruction and development for the four regions.
#BREAKING: Russian President Vladimir Putin signs documents to annex occupied Ukraine lands "forever" during a ceremony at the Kremlin, formalizing Europe's biggest land grab since World War II. -Bloomberg pic.twitter.com/FSklOB1hhO— Moshe Schwartz (@YWNReporter) September 30, 2022
After a string of diatribes against the Western bloc, the Russian president took the opportunity to blame "the Anglo-Saxons" for the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea. "This is perhaps his most anti-Western speech," says analyst Manuel Fernández Illera in conversation with Atalayar. "Even more so than during his speech on 24 February".
At the end of his speech, Putin summoned the leaders, puppets placed by Moscow, who will theoretically be in charge of the new regions of Kherson and Zaporiyia, as well as the already regular leaders of Luhansk and Donetsk, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik. The four signed the documents decreeing their integration into the Russian Federation and joined hands in an intended symbol of unity.
"On the one hand, a peace agreement is further away than ever. Annexation implies an unwillingness to give up these territories, and the Ukrainians - who have the initiative on the front line - will not give them up unless they are totally defeated. But on the other hand, things will have to change a lot on the military front before Russia can no longer force Ukraine to recognise the annexation or a ceasefire, but first halt the Ukrainian advance and then launch an offensive of its own," says Fernández lllera.