Kyiv – Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed laws to formally incorporate four Ukrainian regions into Russia, even as its military struggles to maintain control over the regions it illegally annexed.

Documents finalizing the annexation, carried out in violation of international law, were published on the Russian government’s website on Wednesday morning.

Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified the treaties according to which the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions are part of Russia. This happened after the Kremlin organized “referendums” in four regions, which Ukraine and the West rejected as fake.

On the ground, Moscow’s war in Ukraine has entered a new, more dangerous phase. Russia is facing mounting setbacks as Ukrainian forces retake more and more land in the east and south — the very regions Moscow is pushing for annexation.

The borders of Russia’s claimed territories remain unclear, but the Kremlin has vowed to defend Russian territory — including recently absorbed regions — with any means at its disposal, including nuclear weapons.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, reacted to the annexation by announcing the imminent submission of an application for NATO membership and officially ruling out negotiations with Russia. Zelensky’s decree, published on Tuesday, states that negotiations with Putin have become impossible following his decision to seize four regions of Ukraine.

The head of Zelensky’s office Andrei Yermak wrote in his Telegram channel shortly after Putin signed the annexation that “the worthless decisions of the terrorist country (Russia) are not worth the paper they are signed on.”

“A collective madhouse can continue to live in a fictional world,” he added.

Kyiv’s military said on Wednesday it had recaptured more villages in southern Kherson Oblast as part of its massive counteroffensive effort. The “South” operational command reported that the Ukrainian flag was raised over the villages of Lyubimauka, Khreshchenauka, Zlataya Balka, Bialyavka, Ukrainka, Velikayya and Malaya Aleksandravka.

On the battlefield on Wednesday morning in the White Church, numerous explosions rang out, which caused fires in so-called infrastructure facilities in the city south of the capital Kyiv, regional leader Alyaksei Kuleba reported in Telegram.

Early indications were that the city had been attacked by so-called “kamikaze” or suicide drones, he said.

White Church is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Kyiv.

In recent weeks, Russia has increasingly used lethal drones, creating a new challenge for the defense of Ukraine. Drones can remain airborne for long periods of time before swooping down on their targets and detonating their payload at the last moment.

Many of the previous attacks by Iranian-made drones have taken place in the south of the country, not near the capital, which has not been targeted for weeks.

In a subsequent message, Kuleba reported that a total of six Shahed-136 drones struck the city, one of the largest in the region after Kyiv itself. As a result of the attacks, one person was injured.

Dozens of firefighters were on the scene and were still battling the blaze hours after the attacks were reported, he said.


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