A defiant Putin proclaims Ukrainian annexation, vows to win war
Putin proclaims Ukrainian annexation in Kremlin ceremony
Pledges victory against Ukraine in war
U.S. condemns annexation, imposes new sanctions
Zelenskiy announces NATO membership application
Says no peace talks while Putin is in power
Russian annexation condemned in West
Zelenskiy announces NATO membership move
By Jonathan Landay
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine, Sept 30 (Reuters) - A defiant Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia's annexation of a swathe of Ukraine in a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony, promising Moscow would triumph in its "special military operation" against Kyiv even as some of his troops faced potential defeat.
The Russian president's proclamation of Russian rule over 15% of Ukraine - the biggest annexation in Europe since World War Two - was roundly rejected by Western countries, with the United States and Britain announcing new sanctions.
It comes as Russian forces in one of the four regions being annexed face being encircled by Ukrainian troops after Putin ordered a massive mobilisation drive to get hundreds of thousands of Russian men to the front.
In one of his toughest anti-American speeches in more than two decades in power, Putin signalled he was ready to continue what he called a battle for a "greater historical Russia", slammed the West as neo-colonial and as out to destroy his country, and without evidence accused Washington and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
The four Ukrainian regions that he said Russia was absorbing had made an historic choice, he said.
"They have made a choice to be with their people, their motherland, to live with its fate, and to triumph with it. Truth is on our side. Russia is with us!" Putin told his country's political elite, who had gathered in one of the Kremlin's grandest halls to watch him sign the annexation documents.
"People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever," said Putin, referring to the regions that he said Russia was annexing.
"We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means," he said, calling on "the Kyiv regime to immediately cease hostilities and return to the negotiation table".
He said the United States had set a precedent when it had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, but stopped short of issuing new nuclear warnings against Ukraine himself, something he has done more than once in recent weeks.
The ceremony culminated in the 69-year-old leader chanting "Russia! Russia!" as he clasped the hands of the Russian-backed officials he wants to run the annexed regions, which Ukraine is fighting to win back.
Thousands of people, some of them clutching Russian flags, then packed into Moscow's Red Square to hear celebratory pop music.
Putin told the crowds: "Victory will be ours!"
UKRAINE NATO BID
U.S. President Joe Biden condemned what he called Russia's "fraudulent attempt" to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory and said new U.S. sanctions would hurt those who provided political or economic support to the annexation drive.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called on Putin to end a war he had started, while Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy said he was only ready for peace talks if and when Russia got a new president.
He also announced that Ukraine was formally applying for fast-track membership of the NATO military alliance, something Moscow fiercely opposes, and accused Russia of redrawing borders "using murder, blackmail, mistreatment and lies".
He said however that Kyiv remained committed to the idea of co-existence with Russia "on equal, honest, dignified and fair conditions".
"Clearly, with this Russian president it is impossible. He does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia," Zelenskiy said.
Ukraine and the West have condemned referendums that Moscow held in the four Ukrainian regions - and said showed big majorities to join Russia - as illegal shams. Several dozen Ukrainians interviewed by Reuters in the last week said that only people they described as "Russian collaborators" had voted, with most people boycotting them.
RUSSIAN FORCES NEARLY SURROUNDED
In Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, Russia's garrison in the town of Lyman was in serious trouble on Friday with reports from both sides saying Russian forces were nearly surrounded.
Ukraine said it had all the supply routes to the Russian stronghold in the crosshairs of its artillery in the east, and told Moscow it would have to appeal to Kyiv if it wanted its forces to be allowed out.
The encirclement could leave Ukrainian forces an open path to seize more territory in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, captured earlier in some of the war's bitterest fighting.
Retired U.S. General Ben Hodges, a former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, said what looked like an unfolding defeat would further disrupt the Russian army's already crippled logistics operations.
"There is a psychological aspect to this," he said. "...The potential for this to lead to something else will be good."
SHEETS DRAPED OVER BODIES
The war's brutality was further hammered home just hours before Putin's speech when missiles struck a convoy of civilian cars preparing to cross the frontline from Ukrainian-held territory in Zaporozhzhia province.
Reuters saw a dozen bodies amid blasted cars in a scene of carnage. Ukraine said 25 people had been killed and 74 wounded.
Ukrainian officials called it a deliberate Russian attempt to sever the last links across the front. Moscow blamed the Ukrainians.
The convoy was assembling at a car park near Zaporizhzhia, the Ukrainian-held capital of one of the regions Moscow says it is annexing.
A crater had been gouged in the ground. The impact had sprayed shrapnel across cars packed with belongings. Reuters saw around a dozen bodies.
Plastic sheets were draped over the bodies of a woman and young man in a green car. Two bodies lay in a white mini-van in front of another car. The corpse of an elderly woman lay nearby, next to her shopping bag.
A woman who gave her name as Nataliya said she and her husband had visited their children in Zaporizhzhia and were preparing to cross back into Russian-held territory.
"We have been spared. It's a miracle," she said, standing with her husband beside their car.
Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now
EXPLAINER-Russia unfolds annexation plan for Ukraine
FACTBOX-Russia's annexation plan in Ukraine: Kremlin signing ceremony
GRAPHIC-Ukraine crisis Russia plans to annex Ukrainian regions in the east Link
Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson
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