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After staged referendums, Putin is annexing 4 regions in Ukraine


Russian President Vladimir Putin announced today that Russia's taking part of Ukraine as its own, four provinces to be exact. The move came amid a ceremony at the Kremlin today and follows a series of staged referendums in the mostly Russian-occupied territories, despite Western condemnation of those referendums as a violation of international law. Joining us to talk about all this, NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Hi, Charles.


MARTIN: So staged celebrations to mark staged referendums. What was the event like today?

MAYNES: Well, it was staged a lot, but of course, we had to wait. First of all, Putin was about 20 minutes late before he entered the Kremlin's grand St. George Hall. Lawmakers and dignitaries were there to look on. But once he started, you know, Putin cut right to the chase. He said that the people in these Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine had made their choice, and that choice would not be betrayed, no matter what the West thought of it. Let's listen.



MAYNES: So here, the Russian leader says he called on Ukraine - he said that Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson were becoming citizens forever. You heard a little bit of applause there at the end. The Russian leader called on Ukraine to end hostilities and hold negotiations with Moscow but insisted that would be on Russia's terms. These annexed territories were no longer up for discussion. So, in effect, we have Putin essentially insisting that these people had a right to self-determination, and Russia was, therefore, legally redrawing the map of Europe for the second time in less than a decade.

MARTIN: Although, of course, there are all kinds of reports of voters being coerced, forced to vote yes. I mean, as you know, Charles, the war in Ukraine is not a one-off, right? Putin's been trying to reintegrate parts of the old Soviet Union for a long time. In this speech, did he place this moment in a larger context?

MAYNES: Absolutely. You know, Putin framed what's happening as part of this larger conflict with the West, almost a clash of civilizations, with Russia rising up to defend its own sovereignty. The way Putin describes it, we're really at a key kind of inflection point in history. So for Putin, this is not only about rewriting the rules of the post - you know, post-Cold War era, in which he clearly feels the West dictated the terms both politically, economically and culturally, but it's about building a new world - a multipolar one, as he calls it - where Russia's a key player who defends traditional values and a right to self-determination from Western colonization, as he likes to say.

So we heard him take a lot of broadsides at the U.S. today. He certainly also argued that there were echoes of all this colonialization in the food crisis, for example, that we see across the world right now, or the fight for natural resources. You know, really, all the things that the West accuses Russia of doing, he's throwing it back the other way.

MARTIN: So there's not exactly a long list of countries rushing to proclaim these provinces as Putin's territory, right? I mean, the U.N. has said this is illegal. The U.S. isn't going to recognize this. Neither is any other country, it seems, at this point. So what happens now?

MAYNES: Yeah. Yeah, I think that, you know, the Kremlin understands that, and it's - really, the issue is trying to scare the West and Kyiv into de facto accepting these changed borders. You know, these annexations are taking place in this active war zone. Much of the lands aren't even completely held by Russian forces. And Putin has been resorting to veiled threats to use nuclear weapons to defend the new boundaries.

MARTIN: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.