Putin declares four areas of Ukraine as Russian

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Putin Declares Four Areas Of Ukraine As Russian Putin Declares Four Areas Of Ukraine As Russian
Russia's president Vladimir Putin is speaking as part of a signing ceremony in Moscow to annex four more areas of Ukraine. Photo: Getty Images
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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday presided over a ceremony to annex four Ukrainian regions partly occupied by his forces, escalating his seven-month war and taking it into an unpredictable new phase.

"This is the will of millions of people," he said in a speech before hundreds of dignitaries in the St George's Hall of the Kremlin.

The ceremony took place three days after the completion of hastily staged referendums in which Moscow's proxies in the occupied regions claimed majorities of up to 99% in favour of joining Russia.

Ukraine and Western governments described those votes as bogus, illegitimate and conducted at gunpoint.

In a speech repeatedly interrupted by applause, Putin declared that Russia had four new regions.

He urged Ukraine to cease military action and return to the negotiating table. Kyiv has vowed to recapture all the lands seized by Russia and said that Russia's decision to annex the territories had destroyed any prospect of talks.

Encircled

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Hundreds of Russian troops in Ukraine were encircled in one of their main garrisons on Friday, on the verge of one of the worst defeats of the war, overshadowing President Vladimir Putin's celebration to proclaim his annexation of seized land.

The pro-Russian leader in Ukraine's Donetsk province acknowledged his forces had lost full control of Yampil and Dobryshev, villages north and east of the city of Lyman, leaving Moscow's main garrison in northern Donetsk "half-encircled".

The Ukrainian army was "trying at all costs to spoil our historic events", Denis Pushilin said, referring to an annexation ceremony he was due to attend later on Friday with Putin at the Kremlin.

"This is very unpleasant news, but we must look soberly at the situation and draw conclusions from our mistakes."

Ukraine's military said it was withholding details until the situation was stabilised, but that an operation was under way to encircle Russian forces in the area.

"All the approaches and logistic routes of the enemy, through which they delivered ammunition and manpower, are in fact under fire control" of the Ukrainian army, said Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson Ukrainian troops in the east.

Oleksiy Goncharenko, a high profile Ukrainian lawmaker, tweeted: "Lyman is surrounded! The Ukrainian army is already in Yampil. The Russian army is trying to escape."

Pro-Russian military bloggers reported Ukrainian forces had cut off the escape of thousands of Russian troops. Pushilin said one road to Lyman was still open, though he acknowledged it was now under Ukrainian artillery fire. - Reuters

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