Ukraine President, Zelenskiy has announced that Ukraine is officially applying for membership of Nato, hours after Vladimir Putin said in a Kremlin ceremony that he was annexing four Ukrainian provinces.
In a speech filmed outside his presidential office in Kyiv, Zelenskiy said he was taking this “decisive step” in order to protect “the entire community” of Ukrainians. He promised the application would happen in an “expedited manner”.
“De facto, we have already made our way to Nato. De facto, we have already proven compatibility with alliance standards. They are real for Ukraine – real on the battlefield and in all aspects of our interaction,” he said. “We trust each other, we help each other, and we protect each other. This is the alliance. De facto. Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure.”
The president signed the application form, as did the speaker of parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, and the prime minister, Denys Shmyhal.
The alliance is unlikely to accept Ukraine’s imminent Nato entry while it is in a state of war. As a Nato member, fellow members would be compelled to actively defend it against Russia – a commitment that goes well beyond the supply of weapons.
Zelenskiy acknowledged this soon after Russia’s full-scale invasion. “It is clear that Ukraine is not a member of Nato, we understand this,” he said in March. “For years we heard about the apparently open door, but have already also heard that we will not enter there, and these are truths and must be acknowledged.”
In his address on Friday, shared on Telegram, Zelenskiy dismissed the ceremony in Moscow as a meaningless “farce”. He said no peace talks with Russia would be possible while Putin was president. “Putin doesn’t know what dignity and honesty is. We are ready for dialogue with Russia but only with a different Russian president,” he said.
Zelenskiy promised that Ukraine’s armed forces would continue to free territory from Russian occupation, regardless of Putin’s insinuation that Moscow might use nuclear weapons to defend land it has seized. “The whole of Ukraine will be liberated from this enemy,” he said. Moscow was against “life, the law, humanity and truth”, he added.
The president’s office let it be known that they did not watch Putin’s speech. Instead, Zelenskiy convened his national security council and met the commander-in-chief of his armed forces, Gen Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. He said they discussed progress on the battlefield and weapons deliveries. Zelenskiy added: “Everything will be Ukraine.”
Zelenskiy said Putin’s willingness to kill and torture in order to expand his “zone of control” was madness. Ukrainian commentators agreed. They dismissed Russia’s president as delusional and said his new “treaty” incorporating four regions of Ukraine into Russia would make no difference to the situation on the ground, where Ukrainian troops are on the brink of securing a major victory.
The Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Honcharenko described Putin as an “insane, inadequate person” and said Russia under his two-decade leadership had become a “constant danger to the world”. The ceremony inside the Kremlin’s St George’s Hall was full of “strange people” who “look absolutely awful”, he said.
Speaking to the BBC, he pointed out that the four supposed leaders of the provinces formally annexed by Russia – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – had no democratic mandate. “Who elected these people? Who are they?” he said, describing them as puppets.
The prominent defence correspondent for the Kyiv Independent newspaper, Illia Ponomarenko, called Putin “absolutely mad”. He said the speech was the “most imperialistic” since Adolf Hitler. The Kyiv Post tweeted a question of the day asking: “On scale from 1,000 to 1,001, how mentally deranged is he?”
Zelenskiy has made clear that annexation means negotiations with the Kremlin are at an end. His senior aides pointed to the fact that as Putin was speaking, thousands of his troops faced annihilation in the city of Lyman, in the Donetsk region – an area Moscow says is Russia’s “for ever”.
Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, tweeted a picture of a cauldron, a reference to the fact Russian soldiers were apparently trapped in Lyman. Another senior aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Moscow would have to ask Kyiv for their safe exit. He added: “If, of course, those in Kremlin are concerned with their soldiers.”
The Russian army is facing embarrassing military defeat and the possible collapse of its northern front in the Donetsk and Luhansk region. Unconfirmed video suggested Ukrainian forces had entered the outskirts of Lyman. It showed destroyed Russian vehicles and dead soldiers by the side of the road.
The city, which is a strategic railway junction, had been under Moscow’s control since May. About 5,000 Russian fighters were reportedly trapped in the city. They included troops from Russia’s 20th Combined Arms Army, as well as fighters from the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic.
A Ukrainian journalist, Yuriy Butusov, posted drone footage that appeared to show a Russian military column and stolen civilian vehicles trying to break out in the village of Zarichne. They were attempting to escape before darkness set in, he wrote on Facebook, and the route out was completely closed off.
Earlier this month, Ukraine’s armed forces launched a surprise counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, liberating an area half the size of Wales. They have since consolidated their positions around the city of Kupiansk and have crossed over to the east bank of the Oskil River.
In recent days, Ukrainian battalions have pushed forward north of Lyman, while at the same time advancing from the south-east towards Yampil. Ukraine’s armed forces said on Friday they had liberated the town. They are now able to fire on a highway connecting Lyman with the village of Torskoye – with a wipeout of fleeing Russians possible.
The surrender of Russia’s garrison in Lyman would be a humiliation for the Kremlin. Officials in Kyiv believe Putin’s hasty moves to annex Ukrainian land, including territory under Ukrainian government control, is a sign of desperation and weakness. On the battlefield, Russian troops appear to be going backwards.
Ukraine’s army released video of what appeared to be Russian soldiers fleeing across a wood in the Lyman region. In ironic tones, it said they were involved in a “tactical regrouping” – the phrase used by the general staff in Moscow to describe the Russian army’s chaotic abandonment of Kharkiv oblast.
It now seems likely that Ukrainian units will be able to make further territorial gains in the north of Luhansk province. The next obvious target is the city of Svatove, captured by Russian forces in March, soon after Putin began his “special military operation” in Ukraine.
CULLED FROM THE GUARDIAN