Vladimir Putin annexed four regions of southeastern Ukraine and vowed Russia would use “all the means at our disposal” to defend them, in a further escalation of his war against Kyiv.
He spoke as Ukrainian troops pushed further east in north-east Donetsk, one of the provinces Moscow plans to annex, coming close to surrounding the town of Lyman, a key staging ground for Russian forces.
Putin said an attack on the four regions, which he said he now considered part of his country’s territory, would be treated as an attack on Russia and met with full force.
“We will defend our lands with all the means at our disposal and do everything to protect our people. This is our great liberating mission,” he said in a ceremony at the Kremlin on Friday.
Russia does not control any of the four regions in full and has vowed to “liberate” at least two of them from Ukraine’s grasp as Kyiv presses on with its counteroffensive.
Putin’s speech is the starkest declaration of hostility the Russian leader has yet made against the west and signalled how far he was willing to go seven months into his faltering invasion of the country.
In a blistering broadside against the west, he told an audience of his country’s political elite the Kremlin would lead an “anti-colonial movement” to smash US hegemony around the world.
But Putin served most of his ire for Ukraine’s “real masters” in the west, which he said had spent centuries turning the rest of the world into “vassals” as it spread its “colonial” and “racist” hegemony.
“The west is looking for new ways to strike against our country, to weaken and destroy Russia,” he said. “They just can’t put up with there being such a big country with its territory, rich natural resources, and people who won’t live on anyone else’s rules.”