Vladimir Putin has signed “accession treaties” formalising Russia’s illegal annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine, marking the largest forcible takeover of territory in Europe since the second world war. The signing ceremony, held in defiance of international law, took place in the Grand Kremlin Palace in the presence of the country’s political elites, and comes on the heels of Kremlin-orchestrated fake referendums in the four Ukrainian regions – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk.
Putin kicked off the ceremony with a lengthy, combative and angry speech in which the Russian leader issued new nuclear threats, promising to “protect” the newly annexed lands “with all the forces and means at our disposal”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia would “de jure” incorporate parts of Ukraine which are not under the control of Russian forces. Of the four regions, Luhansk and Kherson are the only territories that Russia is close to having total control over.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said “The illegal annexation proclaimed by Putin won’t change anything. All territories illegally occupied by Russian invaders are Ukrainian land and will always be part of this sovereign nation”. A statement issued by the members of the European Council said “We firmly reject and unequivocally condemn the illegal annexation.”
The UN secretary general had warned Russia that annexing Ukrainian regions would mark a “dangerous escalation” that would jeopardise the prospects for peace in the region. António Guterres said any decision to proceed with the annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions “would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned”.
US ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink has reiterated her country’s opposition to Russia’s planned annexations, saying “Russia’s sham ‘referenda’ were a spectacle, an effort to mask a further attempted land grab. We will never recognise Russia’s purported annexation of Ukrainian territory.”
British prime minister, Liz Truss, has said that the UK will never accept the Russian annexations, and accused Putin of acting in violation of international law with clear disregard for the lives of the Ukrainian people he claims to represent.
A civilian convoy of cars heading to pick up relatives trying to flee Russian occupied territory in Ukraine has been hit by Russian forces near the city of Zaporizhzhia, with initial reports saying at least 25 people were killed and 50 people injured. Footage posted on social media showed a horrific scene with dead and injured people lying on a road on the south-eastern outskirts of the city.
The governor of Zaporizhzhia region, Oleksandr Starukh, said in a statement: “The enemy launched an attack on a civilian convoy and the outskirts of the city. People were standing in line to leave for the occupied territory to pick up their relatives and to deliver aid. There are dead and wounded. Emergency services are at the site.
According to locals, 60 cars had gathered on a road in two lines after registering for a convoy that was due to take people back into the Russian-occupied territories in the south, some planning to return to homes in places such as Mariupol, others planning to fetch relatives and bring them to government-occupied territory for fear that Russia will prevent people from leaving. In the hours before the attack, Russia launched strikes on several cities, including the centre of the nearby city of Dnipro.
A large number of Russian forces in the strategic Donbas town of Lyman were reported to have been encircled in the latest setback in the battlefield for Russia. The villages of Yampil and Drobysheve near the Russian-occupied Lyman “are no longer fully controlled” by Russian forces, Denis Pushilin, the Russian-backed leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said.
A Russian-installed official in the southern Kherson region of Ukraine has been killed in a Ukrainian missile strike, according to Russian state media. Alexei Katerinichev, who served as the first deputy head for security of the Kremlin-appointed administration of the Kherson region, was killed on Friday, Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Moscow-controlled region, said.
Ukrainian forces have secured all of Kupiansk and driven Russian troops from their remaining positions on the east bank of the river that divides the north-eastern Ukrainian city. Most of Kupiansk, a strategic railway junction, was recaptured earlier this month as part of a counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops. AFP reported that those Russian troops who held out on the east bank of the Oskil river have been driven out.
The so-called “People’s militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)” has stated that the first Russian troops from the partial mobilisation have arrived in Donetsk, and are undergoing training.
The Kremlin has reiterated calls for an international investigation into the circumstances of the suspected attack on the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. Without providing any evidence, the head of Moscow’s foreign intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin said “We have materials that point to a western trace in the organisation and implementation of these terrorist acts.”
Gas is likely to stop leaking from the damaged Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Monday, according to the pipeline’s operator. A spokesperson for Nord Stream AG said it was not possible to provide any forecasts for the pipeline’s future operation until the damage had been assessed.
Finland is closing its border to Russian tourists after Putin’s partial mobilisation order prompted large numbers of people to flee the country. From midnight Thursday Finnish time (9pm GMT), Russian tourists holding an EU Schengen visa will be turned away unless they have a family tie or a compelling reason to travel.
More than half of Russians felt fearful or anxious after Putin’s mobilisation announcement, according to a new poll. The poll by the independent Levada Centre showed 47% of respondents said they had felt anxiety, fear or dread after hearing that hundreds of thousands of soldiers would be drafted to fight in Ukraine.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced an eighth package of sanctions – including a draft sanctions law seen by the Guardian – designed to “make the Kremlin pay” for the escalation of the war against Ukraine. Hungary “cannot and will not support” energy sanctions in the package, said Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to the prime minister, Viktor Orbán. An EU official said an agreement on the next sanctions package was expected before next week’s EU summit, or at least major parts of the package.
Russia is escalating its use of Iranian-supplied “kamikaze” drones in southern Ukraine, including against the southern port of Odesa and the nearby city of Mykolaiv.
Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs, has been indicted by the US Department of Justice for criminal sanctions violations. Deripaska previously had deep links to British establishment figures.