Ukraine’s president says his country is submitting an “accelerated” application to join the Nato military alliance.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's statement on Friday came shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed “accession treaties" to illegally annex occupied areas of Ukraine that he warned would protect using “all available means".
Zelenskyy said: “We are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine’s application for accelerated accession to Nato.
The Ukrainian leader's Nato application adds another layer of complexity to the seven-month conflict that rapidly escalated following Putin claimed to annex parts of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy also repeated his pledge to retake all Ukrainian territory now held by Russia which he said “feels our power". He also said Ukraine is ready for dialogue with Moscow but “with another president of Russia.”
Putin has repeatedly made clear that any prospect of Ukraine joining the world's largest military alliance is one of his red lines and it was among the justifications he has cited for his invasion.
In his speech, Putin urged Ukraine to sit down for peace talks but immediately insisted he won’t discuss handing back occupied regions, keeping him on a collision course with the Ukrainian government and its Western backers that have rejected his land-grab.
In a Kremlin ceremony at the ornate St. George's Hall to herald the claimed 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 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 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.
The EU’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.”
Earlier on Friday, the US also sanctioned more than 1,000 people and firms connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including its Central Bank governor and families of National Security Council members, after President Vladimir Putin signed treaties absorbing occupied regions of Ukraine into Russia, in defiance of international law.
“The Treasury Department and US government are taking sweeping action today to further weaken Russia’s already degraded military industrial complex and undermine its ability to wage its illegal war," said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
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