Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Wednesday to formalize Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions, a move widely condemned as illegal and one that comes as Ukrainian forces advance in a counteroffensive to take back areas under Russian control.
The Russian measure, approved earlier this week by the country’s parliament, claims Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions as Russian territory.
Russia-installed officials carried out what they called referendums in those areas. Ukraine and its western partners, along with the United Nations, rejected those votes and the overall annexation effort, saying the votes were held under coercive conditions and did not represent the will of the people.
The U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote next week on a draft resolution condemning Russia’s annexation claim. Russia used its veto power to stop a similar measure at the U.N. Security Council last week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shared photos Wednesday from Lyman, a key city in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, recaptured by Ukrainian forces in the days after the Russian referendums.
“All basics of life have been destroyed here,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “They are doing so everywhere in the territories they seize. This can be stopped in 1 way only: liberate Ukraine, life, humanity, law and truth as soon as possible.”
Hours earlier, Zelenskyy tweeted his thanks to U.S. President Joe Biden following the announcement of $625 million in new U.S. military aid.
Zelenskyy said his military’s ability to reclaim territory from Russian forces is a joint success of Ukraine, the United States “and the entire free world.”
The new round of U.S. aid includes four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, 200 mine resistant vehicles, hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery and mortar ammunition.
Laura Cooper, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, told reporters Tuesday the package is “tailored to meet Ukraine’s immediate needs” and to “maintain momentum in the east and in the south.”
Russia criticized the U.S. move, with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov calling it “an immediate threat to the strategic interests of our country.”
“The supply of military products by the U.S. and its allies not only entails protracted bloodshed and new casualties, but also increases the danger of a direct military clash between Russia and Western countries,” Antonov posted on Telegram.
Britain’s defense ministry said Wednesday that Ukraine is continuing to make progress along both the northeastern and southern battle fronts, including moving close enough to put a key supply road for Russian forces near the town of Svatove in Luhansk in range of Ukrainian artillery.
“Politically, Russian leaders will highly likely be concerned that leading Ukrainian units are now approaching the borders of Luhansk Oblast,” the British defense ministry said in its daily assessment.