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Ukraine war: Putin preaches and rants during land grab as his army faces a catastrophe

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Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin event with Denis Pushilin, Leonid Pasechnik, Vladimir Saldo, and Yevgeny Balitsky, who are the Russian-installed leaders in Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/Sputnik

Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin event with Denis Pushilin, Leonid Pasechnik, Vladimir Saldo, and Yevgeny Balitsky, who are the Russian-installed leaders in Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/Sputnik

Participants listen to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a ceremony to declare the annexation of the Russian-controlled territories of four Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, in the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, yesterday. Photo: Sputnik/Grigory Sysoyev/Kremlin via Reuters

Participants listen to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a ceremony to declare the annexation of the Russian-controlled territories of four Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, in the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, yesterday. Photo: Sputnik/Grigory Sysoyev/Kremlin via Reuters

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Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin event with Denis Pushilin, Leonid Pasechnik, Vladimir Saldo, and Yevgeny Balitsky, who are the Russian-installed leaders in Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/Sputnik

In the white-and-gold St George’s Hall of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin yesterday strolled on to the stage to rapturous applause.

Addressing a crowd of dignitaries, the Russian president formally – but illegally – annexed four regions of Ukraine, promising they would be part of the country “forever”.

But 800km away, his army was facing one of its worst defeats in the war yet – in one of the very regions Putin had just claimed for the nation.

Ukraine’s army yesterday had all but completed the encirclement of Lyman, a key city in Donetsk that serves as a logistical hub for Russia’s army across the front.

In fact, one of the men on stage with Putin under golden chandeliers was separatist leader Denis Pushilin, who hours earlier had been forced to admit Lyman was “semi-encircled”.

Between 4,000 and 6,000 Russian soldiers now face capture or death from the surrounding Ukrainian army, in what Kyiv officials have termed a “cauldron”.

 Lyman has served as a major hub for the Russian military in the north of Donetsk. Its capture will mark one of Kyiv’s most important gains in the ongoing counter-offensive that liberated swathes of land in Donetsk and Kharkiv earlier this month.

During Putin’s speech, he invited the new “leaders” of the four annexed regions – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk – on stage to put their hands on top of his and chant “Russia” over and again. With his troops fearing for their lives, he barely mentioned the Russian army, instead reserving the focus of his speech for ranting against the West.

The Russian leader dwelled at length on Britain and America’s historic wrongdoings from the Opium Wars to the Indian Mutiny.

In another broadside, he accused the “Satanic” West of rejecting morality and religion, launching into a tirade on the topic of gender identity.

“Do we really want to see perversions that lead to degradation and extinction be imposed on children in our schools from the earliest years, for it to be drilled into them that there are supposedly some genders besides women and men, and offered the chance to undergo sex change operations?” he asked, directing the question to “all citizens of Russia” as well as the assembled dignitaries in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

When he did offer peace talks with Kyiv, Putin said Russia was willing to talk to Ukraine only if it concedes territory.

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“The choice of people in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson are not up for discussion,” he said before hundreds of Russian officials rose on their feet.

“They made their choice, and Russia is not going to betray it.” Russian state TV said the audience clapped so hard they “broke their hands”.

Later in the evening, after the speech, Mr Putin went on stage in Red Square where tens of thousands of civil servants and students were bussed in for a concert celebrating the annexation.

Basking in the stage light with “Russia! We’re together forever!” written across it, Putin declared that “power is in the truth, and the truth is on our side. The victory will be ours”.

 With some of Russia’s biggest pop and rock stars barred from performing over their anti-war stance, the concert’s organisers brought in obscure, rabidly patriotic bands and a military orchestra to entertain the crowd.

Just a few hours before Putin signed the annexation decrees, his spokesman still could not say for sure what Russia was actually annexing.

Dmitry Peskov admitted that he was not sure if Russia was annexing the regions in their pre-war borders or only the areas its troops currently hold.

After the annexation speech, Ukrainian president Vlodymyr Zelensky dismissed the call for any peace talks while Putin remains president.

“It’s clearly impossible to negotiate with this Russian president: he knows nothing about dignity and honestly that’s why we’re ready for dialogue with Russia – but with another president of Russia,” the Ukrainian leader said on social media.

Soon after the annexation announcement, Mr Zelensky said his country had applied for a fast-track membership to Nato, a request unlikely to be granted in the present circumstances. (©Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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