People walk towards Red Square to attend events marking the annexation of the Russian-controlled territories of four regions of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proclaimed the annexation of four partially occupied Ukrainian regions at a signing ceremony in the Kremlin.
Ukraine, Western countries, and the United Nations secretary-general have denounced the move, which represents a major escalation in the war that began with Russia’s invasion on February 24.
“This is the will of millions of people,” he said in the speech before hundreds of dignitaries at the St George’s Hall of the Kremlin.
“We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means,” he added, calling on “the Kyiv regime to immediately cease hostilities and return to the negotiation table”.
In one of his toughest anti-American speeches in more than 20 years in power, Putin signaled he was ready to continue what he called a battle for a “greater historical Russia”, slammed the West as neo-colonial and as out to destroy his country, and without evidence accused Washington and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
The signing ceremony came three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” in the four regions, which are largely or partly occupied by Russian or Russian-backed forces.
Moscow’s proxies in the occupied regions have claimed majorities of up to 99 percent in favor of joining Russia. Western governments and Kyiv have dismissed the hastily organized votes as breaching international law, and charged they were coercive and wholly unrepresentative.