Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed documents to absorb four Ukrainian regions, formalizing a major escalation in the seven-month war that has been condemned by U.S. and Western officials.
The documents were published on a Russian government website, The Associated Press reported, and follow Kremlin-orchestrated referendums in the regions.
The Russian parliament earlier this week ratified the annexations of Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, but Ukrainian forces have continued fighting in the regions, keeping Russia from maintaining complete control.
The Ukrainian military over the weekend reclaimed the key transportation hub of Lyman, located in Donetsk, and also made gains in the country's south in the Kherson region.
It remains unclear the exact borders of Russia's new territorial claim.
Ukrainian forces had made significant land gains in recent weeks, especially in the country's northeast, causing repeated embarrassments for Putin.
He responded by calling up 300,000 reservists to bolster the Russian military operation and threatening the use of nuclear weapons, saying it was not a bluff.
Those threats caused alarm among Western leaders. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told CNN that it amounted to nuclear "saber-rattling," and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan vowed a decisive response and severe consequences for Russia if they follow through.
Moscow's annexation follows a referendum the Kremlin orchestrated in the four territories. Russia claimed residents signed off on the annexation plans in the referendum, although the vote was widely condemned by the U.S. officials as a sham.
The U.S. responded to the annexation by announcing new sanctions, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced officials in Kyiv would seek a fast-track application to join NATO.
"The United States condemns Russia's fraudulent attempt today to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory," President Biden said last week when Russia announced the annexation.
"Russia is violating international law, trampling on the United Nations Charter and showing its contempt for peaceful nations everywhere," Biden continued.
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