“There are four new regions of Russia,” he said as he opened a Kremlin ceremony on Friday afternoon (10.30pm AEST).
Putin added that Russia will protect the newly incorporated regions using ‘all available means’, seemingly doubling down on his threats over any interference from the West.
Putin’s land-grab and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s signing of what he said is an “accelerated” NATO membership application sent the two leaders speeding even faster on a collision course that is cranking up fears of a full-blown conflict between Russia and the West.
Putin vowed to protect newly annexed regions of Ukraine by “all available means,” a nuclear-backed threat at a Kremlin signing ceremony where he also railed at the West.
Zelenskyy then held a signing ceremony of his own, releasing video of him putting pen to papers that he said were a formal NATO membership request.
Putin has repeatedly made clear that any prospect of Ukraine joining the world’s largest military alliance is one of his red lines and it was among the justifications he has cited for his invasion.
In his speech, Putin urged Ukraine to sit down for peace talks but immediately insisted he won’t discuss handing back occupied regions — keeping him on a collision course with the Ukrainian government and its Western backers that have rejected his land-grab.
In a Kremlin ceremony at the ornate St. George’s Hall to herald the annexation of the occupied parts of Ukraine, Putin accused the West of fueling the hostilities as part of what he said is a plan to turn Russia into a “colony” and a “crowds of slaves”.
The hardening of his position, in the conflict that that has killed and wounded tens of thousands of people, further cranked up tensions, already at levels unseen since the Cold War.
During the ceremony, Putin also accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built gas pipelines to Germany.
“Those who profit from it have done it,” he said, without naming a specific country.
Swedish coast guard on Thursday confirmed a fourth leak on the pipelines off southern Sweden, two days after the first leaks to the Nord Stream pipelines that extend from Russia to Germany were reported.
The Kremlin ceremony came three days after the completion in occupied regions of Moscow-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a bare-faced land grab held at gunpoint and based on lies.
But Putin, in a fiery speech at the ceremony, insisted that Ukraine must treat the Kremlin-managed votes “with respect.”
After the signing ceremony of treaties to join Russia, Moscow-installed leaders of the occupied regions gathered around Putin and they all linked hands, before then joining chants of “Russia! Russia!” with the audience.
Putin also railed at the West, cutting an angry figure as he accused the United States and its allies of seeking to destroy Russia. He said the West acted “as a parasite” and used its financial and technological strength “to rob the entire world.”
He portrayed Russia as being on a historical mission to reclaim its post-Soviet great power status and counter Western domination that he said is collapsing.
“History has called us to a battlefield to fight for our people, for the grand historic Russia, for future generations,” he said.
The separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine have been backed by Moscow since declaring independence in 2014, weeks after the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
The southern Kherson region and part of the neighbouring Zaporizhzhia were captured by Russia soon after Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.
Both houses of the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament will meet next week to rubber-stamp the treaties for the regions to join Russia, sending them to Putin for his approval.
Putin and his lieutenants have bluntly warned Ukraine against pressing an offensive to reclaim the regions, saying Russia would view it as an act of aggression against its sovereign territory and wouldn’t hesitate to use “all means available” in retaliation, a reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
The Kremlin-organised votes in Ukraine and the nuclear warning are an attempt by Putin to avoid more defeats in Ukraine that could threaten his 22-year rule.
Russia controls most of the Luhansk and Kherson regions, about 60 per cent of the Donetsk region and a large chunk of the Zaporizhzhia region where it took control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
The push forward with annexation comes with the Kremlin on the verge of another stinging battlefield loss, with reports of the imminent Ukrainian encirclement of the eastern city of Lyman.
Retaking it could open the path for Ukraine to push deep into Luhansk, one of the regions Russia is absorbing.
“It looks quite pathetic. Ukrainians are doing something, taking steps in the real material world, while the Kremlin is building some kind of a virtual reality, incapable of responding in the real world,” former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst Abbas Gallyamov said.
“People understand that the politics is now on the battlefield,” he added. “What’s important is who advances and who retreats. In that sense, the Kremlin cannot offer anything сomforting to the Russians.”
Russia on Friday also pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets and suicide drones, with one strike reported to have killed 25 people. The salvos together amounted to the heaviest barrage that Russia has unleashed for weeks.
They followed analysts’ warnings that Putin was likely to dip more heavily into his dwindling stocks of precision weapons and step up attacks as part of a strategy to escalate the war to an extent that would shatter Western support for Ukraine.