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Putin Says Waging War in Ukraine Defends Russian ‘Sovereignty’

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Russia is defending its “sovereignty” and “spiritual values” by waging war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said in a video address posted on the Kremlin website.

The speech came a year after Putin signed documents to illegally annex four Ukrainian regions in Europe’s biggest land grab since World War II.

“We are defending Russia itself, are fighting together for the Motherland, for our sovereignty, spiritual values and unity, for victory,” he said of the invasion Kremlin forces launched in February 2022.  

Putin said Russia has to implement a “large-scale program” to revive and develop the annexed regions, and vowed to achieve its goal. Kremlin forces control only parts of the four regions, whose combined area is roughly the size of Bulgaria. 

The speech sought to demonstrate that Putin has solidified his territorial claims even as Kyiv’s four-month-old counteroffensive, backed by billions of dollars in weapons from the U.S. and other allies, makes halting progress in the country’s east and south.

The Kremlin held sham referendums a year ago to annex the Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson regions. The votes drew condemnation from the United Nations and Ukraine’s allies, and aren’t recognized internationally.

Russia-appointed authorities held elections in those regions earlier this month, even as Moscow’s forces continue to lose parts of the territory they took at the start of the February 2022 invasion. 

Ukrainian units this week moved forward near the village of Verbove in the Zaporizhzhia region, with troops pushing toward Russian strongholds further south. The Institute for the Study of War, U.S.-based military analysts, called it a “tactical breakthrough” but said the situation remains fluid.

Russia in 2014 annexed the Crimean peninsula, which Ukraine has been targeting recently with more frequent attacks on weapons, bases and supply lines there.

In a speech last year at a signing ceremony to formalize control over the four occupied regions in Ukraine, Putin vowed the annexation would be irreversible and that people on these territories would become Russian citizens “forever.” 

In a post on Telegram, Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and prime minister who’s now deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, said the war will last “until the complete destruction” of the Kyiv government and “liberation of native Russian territories.” Medvedev, a frequent provocateur on social media, also wrote that Russian will have “more new regions.” 

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