Putin Signs ‘Independence’ Decree for Zaporizhia, Kherson

Kremlin, MINA – Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the ‘independence’ of the Ukrainian territories of Zaporizhia and Kherson as Russia prepares to formally declare its annexation of Ukrainian territory in a major escalation during its seven-month invasion.

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

The two territories will be incorporated into Russia along with the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk at a lavish ceremony in the Kremlin this Friday following a hastily held referendum on the Russian-occupied territory.

According to Russia, 99 percent of Ukrainians in the region support joining Russia. Putin recognized the ‘independence’ of Donetsk and Luhansk in February.

The commemoration, which marks a ceremony eight years after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine, following its invasion and similar voting – will take place at 3pm local time (12:00 GMT) in Georgievsky Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace, where a marble plaque engraved with gold commemorating Russian military heroes.

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In very strong language, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in New York City that Russia’s annexation violated the UN Charter and had no legal value.

Guterres described Russia’s move as a “dangerous escalation” of a conflict that began on February 24 that has “no place in the modern world.”

“It doesn’t have to be accepted,” he said.

The UN Security Council, over which Russia has veto power, will meet on Friday with the United States and Albania working on a draft resolution condemning the annexation. US President Joe Biden on Thursday reiterated the US will never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukrainian territory.

“The results are made in Moscow,” Biden said of the referendum.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also urged Putin to take steps to reduce tensions in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has held an emergency meeting on Friday at his National Security and Defense Council. Few details were given, but officials said “fundamental decisions” had to be made amid concerns about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons.

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Kyiv had previously dismissed the plan as a “weird Kremlin show”, saying the only appropriate response from the West would be to impose new sanctions and supply Ukrainian forces with more weapons.

Ukraine began a major counter-offensive this month that has pushed Russia out of its northeastern region of Kharkiv. It is also making progress in the south and is on the threshold of Lyman in the Donetsk region.

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

The sudden annexation means the front line will now pass through territory Russia claims as its own, and which Putin says is ready to defend with nuclear weapons if necessary.

Putin last week declared the mobilization of reservists of every young man in the country with conscription. As a result, the move has led to huge queues at the Russian border. Thousands of young men are trying to flee the country. Even staunch Kremlin allies have criticized the chaotic nature of the call, and Putin himself admitted on Thursday that all mistakes must be corrected.

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The Kremlin-appointed leaders of Ukraine’s four 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, states in a video of himself next to Red Square.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Putin would deliver a keynote address on Friday, but did not say whether the president would attend the concert being held in the square, where a giant video screen has been installed, and billboards announce the names of the territories: ‘Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson – Russia!’.

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

Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)