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Putin signs annexation of Ukrainian regions as losses mount

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed laws formally incorporating four Ukrainian regions into Russia, even as his military struggles to maintain control of the regions it illegally annexed.

Documents ending the annexation carried out in defiance of international law were posted on a Russian government website Wednesday morning.

Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties making the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions part of Russia. That followed Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” in the four regions that Ukraine and the West have rejected as a sham.

On the ground, Moscow’s war in the Ukraine has entered a new, more dangerous phase. Russia is facing mounting setbacks, with Ukrainian forces retaking more and more land in the east and south, the very regions that Moscow has pushed to annex.

The borders of the territories Russia claims remain unclear, but the Kremlin has pledged to defend Russia’s territory, including the newly absorbed regions, with all means at its disposal, including nuclear weapons.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded to the annexation by announcing a fast-track request to join NATO and formally ruling out talks with Russia. Zelenskyy’s decree, published on Tuesday, states that holding negotiations with Putin has become impossible after his decision to seize Ukraine’s four regions.

Zelenskyy’s bureau chief Andriy Yermak wrote on his Telegram channel shortly after Putin signed the annexation that “worthless decisions of the terrorist country (Russia) are not worth the paper they are signed on.

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“A collective asylum can continue to live in a fictional world,” he added.

Kyiv’s army said on Wednesday that it had recaptured more villages in the southern Kherson region as part of its massive counter-offensive effort. The Southern Operational Command said that the Ukrainian flag has been raised over the villages of Liubymivka, Khreschenivka, Zolota Balka, Biliaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka and Mala Oleksandrivka.

On the battlefield Wednesday morning, multiple explosions rocked Bila Tserkva, setting fires to what were described as infrastructure facilities in the city south of the capital Kyiv, regional leader Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.

Early indications are that the city was attacked by so-called “kamikaze” or suicide drones, he said.

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Bila Tserkva is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Kyiv.

Russia has been using more and more suicide drones in recent weeks, posing a new challenge to Ukrainian defenses. Unmanned vehicles can remain airborne for long periods of time before diving into their targets and detonating their payload at the last moment.

Many of the previous attacks by the Iranian-made drones occurred in the south of the country and not near the capital, which has not been attacked for weeks.

In a later post, Kuleba said a total of six Shahed-136 drones attacked the city, one of the largest in the region after Kyiv itself. One person was injured in the attacks.

Dozens of rescuers were on the scene and still working to extinguish the fires hours after the attacks were reported, he said.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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