President Vladimir Putin describes annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as part of a historical mission to reclaim Russia's great power status.

Putin urges Ukraine to sit down for talks and said it should treat votes
Putin urges Ukraine to sit down for talks and said it should treat votes "with respect." (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed treaties to annex parts of Ukraine, defying international law.

In a speech prior to the signing ceremony on Friday, the Russian president said Moscow would use "all available means" to protect the newly incorporated regions. 

He also urged Ukraine to sit down for peace talks but immediately insisted he won’t discuss handing them back, opening a new escalatory phase of his seven-month offensive on the country.

Kiev and the West have rejected what they see as a "land-grab" in Ukraine. The European Union’s 27 member states said they will never recognise the illegal referendums that Russia organised “as a pretext for this further violation of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

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 fuelling 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 has killed and wounded tens of thousands of people, further cranked up tensions, already at levels unseen since the Cold War.

The European Union immediately responded to Putin’s latest step with a joint statement rejecting and condemning “the illegal annexation” of the four regions: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Ukraine vowed to continue fighting.

“We don’t pay attention to those whose time to take pills has come. The army is working, Ukraine is united — only moving forward,” said Andrii Yermak, head of the presidential office.

READ MORE: Live blog: People of occupied Ukrainian regions 'are our citizens' - Putin

Stern warning

The ceremony came three days after the completion in the occupied regions of referendums on joining Russia that were dismissed by Kiev and the West as a bare-faced land grab held at gunpoint and based on lies.

In his speech railing at the West, Putin urged Ukraine to sit down for talks and said it should treat votes “with respect.” But he immediately qualified his offer of negotiations with a stern warning that surrendering control of the four regions would not be on the table.

Putin portrayed his offensive as part of a historical mission to reclaim Russia’s 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 grand historic Russia, for future generations,” he said.

READ MORE: Erdogan to Putin: Give talks another chance to end Ukraine conflict

Backed by Moscow

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 neighbouring Zaporizhzhia were captured by Russia soon after Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.

Both houses of the 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 – threats that Moscow can back up with the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear warheads.

READ MORE: Russia recognises Ukraine's Kherson, Zaporizhzhia as independent states

Source: AP