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Putin signs ‘independence’ decrees for Zaporizhia, Kherson

Putin will host the annexation ceremony in Moscow after declaring Ukrainian lands “independent” in a major escalation of the conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the “independence” of the Ukrainian regions of Zaporizhia and Kherson as Russia prepares to formally proclaim the annexation of Ukrainian territory in a major escalation of its seven-month invasion.

“I order the recognition of state sovereignty and independence” of Zaporizhia and Kherson in southern Ukraine, Putin said in presidential decrees issued Thursday night.

The two regions will join Russia along with the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in a lavish ceremony at the Kremlin on Friday after hastily organized referendums in the Russian-occupied regions, which won majorities of up to 99 percent. in favor of joining Russia. Putin recognized the ‘independence’ of Donetsk and Luhansk in February.

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The ceremony, eight years after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine following a similar invasion and vote, will take place at 3:00 p.m. local time (12:00 GMT) in the St. George Column Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace. where gold-engraved marble plaques commemorate Russian military heroes.

In unusually strong language, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in New York City that Russia’s annexation would violate the United Nations Charter and would have “no legal value.”

He described the move as “a dangerous escalation” of the conflict that began on February 24 and which “has no place in the modern world.”

“It should not be accepted,” he said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called an emergency meeting Friday of his National Defense and Security Council.

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Kyiv earlier dismissed the plan as a “Kremlin freak show,” saying the only appropriate response from the West was to impose new sanctions and supply more weapons to Ukrainian forces.

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Large billboards proclaiming the Urkainian territories are part of Russia installed in Red Square with Saint Basil's Cathedral behind
Red Square is preparing for a concert on the occasion of the annexations with billboards reading ‘Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson: Russia!’ already in position [Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo]

Ukraine embarked on a major counteroffensive this month that has driven Russia out of the northeastern Kharkiv region. It is also advancing in the south and is at the gates of Lyman in the Donetsk region.

Russia controls only about 60 percent of Donetsk and 70 percent of Zaporizhia, where fighting has broken out near Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

The sudden annexations mean that the front lines will now cut through territory that Russia claims as its own and that Putin has said he is ready to defend with nuclear weapons if necessary.

Putin last week declared a mobilization of reservists, a move that has sparked huge queues at Russia’s borders as thousands of men of fighting age try to flee the country. Even staunch Kremlin allies have criticized the chaotic nature of the call, with Putin himself admitting on Thursday that “all mistakes must be corrected.”

The Kremlin-installed leaders of the four Ukrainian regions and their officials have gathered in the Russian capital for the ceremony.

“Victory is ours. We are Russia,” Kirill Stremousov, an official from the Kherson region, said in a video of himself outside Red Square.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin will deliver a major speech on Friday, but did not say whether the president will attend a concert in the square, where giant video screens and billboards have been set up. they proclaim the names of the regions: ‘Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson – Russia!’

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Putin is due to address parliament separately at a later stage, paving the way for him to ratify the annexation process on or before October 7, his 70th birthday.

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