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Russia officially annexes 4 Ukraine regions, leaves door open for more

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting outside Moscow on Wednesday. He also signed laws Wednesday, formalizing the annexation of large swaths of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting outside Moscow on Wednesday. He also signed laws Wednesday, formalizing the annexation of large swaths of Ukraine.

Photo: AP / Gavriil Grigorov


Ukraine raises flags over multiple villages during massive counter-offensive

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed laws that claimed four regions of Ukraine as Russia's territory while his country's military struggled Wednesday to control the illegally annexed areas. In a defiant move, the Kremlin held the door open for further land grabs in Ukraine.

Speaking in a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that certain territories will be reclaimed, and we will keep consulting residents who would be eager to embrace Russia.

Putin last week signed treaties that purport to absorb Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions into Russia. The move followed Kremlin-orchestrated referendums in Ukraine that the Ukrainian government and the West have dismissed as illegitimate.

Peskov did not specify which additional Ukrainian territories Moscow is eyeing for attempted annexation and he wouldn't say if the Kremlin planned to organize more such referendums.

Biggest annexation since WWII

The annexation is Europe's biggest since the Second World War and represents up to 18 per cent of Ukraine, some of which Moscow's forces do not control. If Crimea is added, which Russia annexed in 2014, Moscow is laying claim to 22 per cent of Ukraine, though it has yet to spell out where all of the borders will be located.

Putin has vowed to defend Russia's territory — including the annexed regions — with any means at his military's disposal, including nuclear weapons.

Peskov dismissed the idea that battlefield losses undermined the annexation plan. 

Kyiv, meanwhile, said it will never accept an illegal, imperial-style land grab and has recaptured hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of its own territory in recent weeks.

The head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office, Andriy Yermak, wrote on his Telegram channel shortly after Putin signed the annexation legislation that the worthless decisions of the terrorist country are not worth the paper they are signed on.

Zelenskyy responded to the annexation by announcing Ukraine's fast-track application to join NATO. In a decree released Tuesday, he also ruled out negotiations with Russia, declaring that Putin's actions made talking to the Russian leader impossible.

Conflicting assessments from the front lines

On the ground, Russia and Ukraine gave conflicting assessments Wednesday of a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Russian-occupied Kherson region. A Moscow-installed regional official insisted that Ukrainian advances had been halted.

As of this morning … there are no movements by Kyiv's forces, Kirill Stremousov said in comments to state-run Russian news agency RIA Novost. He vowed the Ukrainian fighters won't enter [the city of] Kherson.

However, the Ukrainian military said the Ukrainian flag had been raised above seven villages in the Kherson region previously occupied by the Russians.

WATCH | Ukraine makes rapid gains in Russia-annexed territory:

Ukraine makes rapid gains in Russian annexed territory

15 hours agoDuration2:11Ukrainian troops are advancing rapidly not just in the country's east, but also the south, capturing territory that only days ago Russia unilaterally claimed as its own through a series of annexations.

The deputy head of the Ukrainian regional government, Yurii Sobolevskyi, said military hospitals were full of wounded Russian soldiers and that Russian military medics lacked supplies.

In central Ukraine, multiple explosions rocked Bila Tserkva, a city about 80 kilometres south of Kyiv.

The blasts set off fires at what were described as infrastructure facilities, regional leader Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.

Suicide drones a new problem for Kyiv

Early indications suggested Bila Tserkva was attacked with so-called kamikaze, or suicide, drones, he said. Russia has increasingly employed such drones in recent weeks, posing a new challenge to Ukrainian defences.

The unmanned vehicles can stay aloft for long periods of time before diving into targets and detonating their payloads at the last moment.

Many of the earlier attacks with the Iranian-made drones happened in the south of Ukraine and not near the capital, which hasn't been targeted for weeks.

Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armoured vehicle as they drive on a road between Izium and Lyman in Ukraine on Tuesday.

Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armoured vehicle as they drive on a road between Izium and Lyman in Ukraine on Tuesday.

Photo: AP / Francisco Seco

Zelenskyy chaired a meeting of Ukraine's top military officials on Wednesday morning during which they discussed countering new types of weapons used by Russia — a probable reference to the drones.

Meanwhile, a different sort of battle was taking place on energy markets.

European Union countries agreed Wednesday to impose a price cap on Russian oil and other new sanctions.

OPEC+ could raise gas prices again

Diplomats struck the deal in Brussels that also includes curbs on EU exports of aircraft components to Russia and limits on steel imports from the country, according to an official statement from the Czech rotating EU presidency.

The 27-nation bloc will impose a ban on transporting Russian oil by sea to other countries above the price cap, which the Group of Seven wealthy democracies want in place by Dec. 5, when an EU embargo on most Russian oil takes effect.

For its part, Moscow — which has reduced gas supplies to Europe, blaming Western sanctions and technical difficulties — was withdrawing gas from a pipeline to Europe and redirecting it to Russia, Denmark said, citing a statement from Russian energy firm Gazprom.

Also, the OPEC+ alliance of oil-exporting countries on Wednesday will debate a potentially large cut in the amount of crude it ships to the global economy — a move that could help Russia weather a looming European ban on oil imports and raise gasoline prices for U.S. drivers just ahead of the midterm elections.

Energy ministers from the OPEC cartel — whose leading member is Saudi Arabia and in which Russia is an allied non-member — are meeting in person at the group's Vienna headquarters for the first time since early 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Associated Press