Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday insisted that the residents of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow annexed a year ago “made their choice — to be with their Fatherland.”
In an address released in the early hours to mark the first anniversary of the annexation, Putin insisted that it was carried out “in full accordance with international norms.”
He also claimed that residents of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions had again expressed their desire to be part of Russia in local elections earlier this month. Russia’s Central Election Commission said the country’s ruling party won the most votes.
"Just as a year ago in the historic referendums, people again expressed and confirmed their will to be with Russia and supported their countrymen who, through their labor and real actions, proved worthy of the people's trust," he said in a video of just over four minutes issued at midnight.
Putin reiterated his stance that Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine saved people from nationalist leaders in Kyiv who had unleashed a "full-scale civil war" and "terror against those who think differently.”
The West has denounced both the referendum votes carried out last year and the recent ballots as a sham. The votes were held as Russian authorities attempted to tighten their grip on territories Moscow illegally annexed a year ago and still does not fully control.
A concert was held in Red Square on Friday to mark the anniversary, but Putin did not participate.
The address came after Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday it would enlist 130,000 men for compulsory military service this fall, beginning Oct. 1, in most regions of the country. It announced it would for the first time begin enlisting residents of the annexed territories as part of its twice-yearly military conscription campaign.
Russia says conscripts are not deployed to what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, or to serve in the annexed territories. However, after their service, conscripts automatically become reservists, and Russia has previously deployed reservists to Ukraine.
In Ukraine, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell referenced the anniversary of the regions being “illegally annexed” by Russia in a video recorded during an unannounced visit to the Black Sea port city of Odesa on Saturday. Speaking from the city’s Transfiguration Cathedral, severely damaged in a Russian missile strike in July, Borrell reiterated the EU’s support for Ukraine.
“Odesa is a beautiful historic city. It should be in the headlines for its vibrant culture and spirit. Instead, it marks the news as frequent target of Putin’s war,” the EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy chief wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Meanwhile, the governor of Ukraine’s partly occupied southern Zaporizhzhia region, Yurii Malashko, said five people were wounded on Saturday in two missile strikes on the village of Matviivka, located on the northeastern outskirts of the regional capital, also called Zaporizhzhia.
Air defenses shot down 30 out of 40 Iranian-made kamikaze drones aimed at the Odesa, Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia provinces overnight, the Ukrainian air force said Saturday.
Vinnytsia regional Gov. Serhii Borzov said that air defenses shot down 20 drones over his central Ukrainian region, but that a “powerful fire” broke out in the town of Kalynivka when a drone struck an unspecified infrastructure facility.