Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he expects the situation to stabilize in four war-torn regions of Ukraine after signing legislation to annex them on Wednesday, despite the fact that Russia’s military does not fully control those areas.
While Russian state television hailed Putin’s inking of the annexation process, pro-Kremlin pundits delivered rare dispatches on the growing setbacks faced by Moscow’s troops on the ground.
Russian forces appear to be buckling under growing pressure as Ukraine continues to regain territory in the south, where Russian soldiers have been forced to retreat from previously-held settlements as Kyiv progresses with its counteroffensive towards the Russian-occupied city of Kherson.
Despite losing territory in the south to Ukrainian military at rapid pace, Putin on Wednesday signed several laws ratifying the Russian Federation’s claimed annexation of four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
In a bid to celebrate the news, Putin took the opportunity in a televised meeting for Teachers’ Day to congratulate educators from “all 89 regions of Russia,” a number that includes the newly annexed territories.
Putin said he was “pleased” and “surprised” by the referendums’ results and claimed that the regions will now be stabilized and developed while “helping strengthen the country as a whole.”
The annexations are illegal under international law. World leaders have said they are the result of “sham” referendums that will never be recognized.
Donetsk and Luhansk are both in eastern Ukraine, and fighting against Moscow-backed breakaway republics in each region has been raging since 2014. Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are in southern Ukraine and have been occupied by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began in late February.
Russia has vowed to take control of all of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but its goals in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson are less clear, which has created confusion about the boundaries that Russia is claiming.
Amid the uncertainty, Russia and Ukraine on Wednesday also issued conflicting announcements over the management of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Putin signed a decree to claim the plant, the largest complex of its kind in Europe, as under Russian state control; meanwhile the head of Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company, said that he was taking charge.
“Undoubtedly, our work, our destiny, our homes and our future are with Ukraine, as always. We will continue to work in accordance with Ukrainian legislation, in the Ukrainian energy system, in Energoatom. Don’t doubt it!” Petro Kotin said in a video address to the plant’s employees.