NATO has issued a chilling nuclear war warning after Vladimir Putin’s deranged speech edged the world into the most dangerous moment since the Russian invasion.
Jens Stoltenberg, who heads the Western military alliance, said Putin’s shameless landgrab would not stop NATO providing its “unwavering support” to Ukraine.
The NATO chief said Putin’s latest move had brought the world one step closer to nuclear Armageddon.
“Putin has mobilised hundreds of thousands of more troops, engaged in irresponsible nuclear sabre rattling and now illegally annexed more Ukrainian territory,” Stoltenberg said in a press conference.
“Together, this represents the most serious escalation since the start of the war.
“NATO reaffirms its unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We remain resolute in providing support to Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against Russia’s aggression, for as long as it takes.”
Meanwhile, the US called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting where it’s expected they’ll announce a fresh wave of sanctions on Russia.
Joe Biden said the US would continue to provide Ukraine with military aid.
“We will continue to provide Ukraine with the equipment it needs to defend itself, undeterred by Russia’s brazen effort to redraw the borders of its neighbour,” the President said in a statement.
“We will rally the international community to both denounce these moves and to hold Russia accountable.”
Putin formally inked decrees declaring Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be Russian territory following a series of sham referendums.
The ruthless landgrab was made official at the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace in a signing ceremony.
Putin was late showing up to the huge gathering of his cronies and then issued a long, rambling, nonsensical diatribe.
In his speech, he said: “People have made their choice – and that choice is beyond any doubt… this is the will of millions of people.”
The Russian leader vowed to “defend our land with all means” – and said the people living in the stolen Ukrainian regions are “our citizens forever”.
“People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our citizens forever,” he said.
“We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means.”
The crowds looked glum and appeared to clap on cue as the tyrant droned on for nearly an hour before the separatist leaders signed the decrees, joined hands and chanted “Russia!”
A huge rally was held in Moscow’s Red Square on Friday in which Putin vowed that Russia “will win”.
Just moments after Putin’s deranged speech, Ukraine officially applied to become part of NATO.
President Volodymyr Zelensky signed off the paperwork for fast-track membership to the alliance to “protect our entire community”.
He also said Ukraine would continue with its blitzkrieg counter-offensive against Russia in the east.
“By attempting to annex Ukraine’s Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, Putin tries to grab territories he doesn’t even physically control on the ground,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
“Nothing changes for Ukraine: we continue liberating our land and our people, restoring our territorial integrity”.
Russia has long feared Ukraine joining the alliance since it become closer with the West and Putin repeatedly issued threats to scare the nation into staying out of it.
If Ukraine’s application is successful, member states would be obligated to defend it against Russia – meaning the UK and US would be compelled to send in troops.
It comes as the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on hundreds of Russian lawmakers and leaders of the country’s financial and military infrastructure.
And the Commerce Department added 57 companies to its list of export control violators, while the State Department added more than 900 people to its visa restriction list.
The UK also ramped up sanctions, with sweeping new measures targeting vulnerable sectors of the economy.
Britain is banning the export of nearly 700 goods crucial to Russia’s industrial and technological sectors.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “The Russian regime must be held to account for this abhorrent violation of international law.”
The four regions annexed by Russia cover some 90,000sq km, or about 15 per cent of Ukraine – roughly the size of Hungary or Portugal.
The outrageous move from Putin has ramped up fears he could launch a nuclear strike to protect his so-called Russian territory.
As fierce Ukrainian forces push his troops back in the northeast of the country, there are concerns the tyrant will now try to reframe the lightning counteroffensive as an attack on Russia sovereignty.
The Kremlin said any attack on newly annexed parts of Ukraine will be considered an attack on Russia itself – adding his troops would fight to take the whole of the eastern Donbas region.