June 18, 2024

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The Kremlin says annexation and retreat are not a contradiction amid Ukraine’s successes

The Kremlin says annexation and retreat are not a contradiction amid Ukraine's successes
  • Putin signs annexation documents
  • Russian forces are fighting a counterattack
  • Putin appoints officials to administer the regions
  • The Kremlin: The lands will be returned

LONDON (Reuters) – As President Vladimir Putin finalized papers to annex four regions of Ukraine on Wednesday, the Kremlin said there was no contradiction between Russia’s withdrawal and Putin’s pledge that they would always remain part of Russia.

In the largest territorial expansion of Russia in at least half a century, Putin signed laws allowing the entry into Russia of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), Kherson region, and Zaporizhia Region.

The completion of the legal aspects of annexing up to 18% of Ukrainian territory came as Russian forces battled to stop Ukrainian counterattacks within it, particularly north of Kherson and west of Luhansk.

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Asked if there was a contradiction between Putin’s rhetoric and the reality of the retreat on the ground, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “There is no contradiction at all. They will be with Russia forever and they will return.”

The wording of the laws is unclear about the exact limits that Russia claims for the annexed territories and Peskov refused to give clear guidance.

“Some of the lands will be returned and we will continue to consult with residents who express our desire to live with Russia,” Peskov said.

The contrast between the set of defeats on the battlefield and the noble language of the Kremlin about the Russian language may have raised fears within the Russian elite about the conduct of the war.

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Such is the depth of sentiment about the withdrawal that two of Putin’s allies have publicly scolded senior military officers over the failures.


Russia announced the annexations after holding what it called referendums in the occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kiev said the vote violated international law and was coercive and unrepresentative.

After more than seven months of war that has killed tens of thousands and caused the biggest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Russia’s primary goals have yet to be achieved.

Not all of the annexed areas are under the control of Russian forces, and they were recently expelled by Ukrainian forces.

Besides Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, Putin’s total claim is more than 22% of Ukrainian territory, although the exact boundaries of the four regions he annexed have yet to be definitively clarified.

Moscow, which recognized the borders of post-Soviet Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, will never return these areas, Putin said Friday at a grand Kremlin signing ceremony for a treaty that brought the areas under partial control to Russia.

The Russian parliament said that people living in the annexed regions would be given Russian passports, the Russian Central Bank would oversee financial stability and the Russian ruble would be the official currency.

In justifying the February 24 invasion, Putin said Russian speakers in Ukraine had been persecuted by Ukraine which he said the West was trying to use to undermine Russian security.

Ukraine and its Western backers say Putin has no justification for what they say is an imperial-style land grab. Kyiv denies persecution of Russian speakers.

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Now Putin is portraying the war as a battle for Russia’s survival against the United States and its allies, who he says want to destroy Russia and seize its vast natural resources.

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Reporting by Reuters. Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Philippa Fletcher

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.