Updated Sep 30, 2022 - World

Putin claims 15% of Ukraine is now part of Russia

Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik via Getty

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in a major speech on Friday that Russia would annex four regions of Ukraine, a dramatic escalation that leaves no clear path to peace.

The big picture: Russia partially occupies the four Ukrainian oblasts — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — and held staged referendums over the past few days that most western governments labeled a "sham."

What he's saying: Putin claimed the results of the referendums had been "unequivocal."

  • Putin said Ukraine and "its real masters in the West" must know "the citizens of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhia, and Kherson have become our citizens forever."
  • Putin called on Ukraine to negotiate, but said the annexations were final. "There is no turning back, Russia will not let them down." He added, "We shall defend our territory with all means available to us."
  • Putin claimed the territories had historically been part of Russia, before turning his attention to the "collective West" which he claimed "simply cannot accept the existence of Russia, with its huge territory, its huge resources."

State of play: Russian forces have been on the defensive as Ukrainian forces conduct counteroffensives in the east and Kherson in the south. As Putin spoke, Ukrainian forces were in the process of encircling Russia's positions in the city of Lyman in northern Donetsk.

  • With his annexations, which Western governments have universally rejected, Putin will be claiming that fighting is taking place on Russian soil — an apparent attempt to recast this as a defensive war.
  • Crucially, the Kremlin has already suggested that the territories will now be under Russia's nuclear umbrella, and thus attacks there could be met with a nuclear response. Ukrainian and Western officials have said they won't be deterred by "nuclear blackmail."
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to define victory as removing Russian forces from all territories of Ukraine, and previously warned that annexing Ukrainian territory would make peace negotiations impossible.

Following the annexation announcement, Zelensky said Ukraine is making an "accelerated" bid to join NATO.

  • "De facto, we have already proven compatibility with alliance standards. They are real for Ukraine — real on the battlefield and in all aspects of our interaction," Zelensky said. "We trust each other, we help each other, and we protect each other. This is the alliance."
  • A speedy ascension for Ukraine into NATO is unlikely.
  • President Biden warned Putin later Friday that "America is fully prepared with our NATO allies to defend every single inch of NATO territory, every single inch."
  • "Mr. Putin, don't misunderstand what I'm saying. Every inch," Biden added.

Between the lines: With the annexation move, Putin seems to hope, mistakenly, that by putting nuclear weapons on the table he can convince the U.S. to pressure Ukraine to agree to back down, says Carnegie's Alexander Gabuev.

  • But by laying claim to so much Ukrainian territory, he has also raised the bar for victory.
  • "Putin views this war as existential for himself, for his personal survival maybe, for his legacy and for his country. And that's why it's just unattainable that he will back down. There is no diplomatic offramp that is visible for him," Gabuev says.

Russia is also in the process of drafting an estimated 300,000 men in an attempt to stabilize the precarious military position.

  • Putin acknowledged mistakes" in the mobilization process on Thursday, and said anyone who was called up despite not meeting the draft criteria “must be sent home.”
  • 70% of Russians say they felt fear or alarm as a result of Putin's partial mobilization, and 66% believe full mobilization is possible, according to the Levada Center independent pollster.
  • The proportions of Russians believing the war isn't going well (31%) and wanting peace talks (48%) also increased in the new poll.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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