KIEV, UKRAINE—Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law to formally absorb four regions of Ukraine into Russia.
Documents confirming the annexation were published on the Russian government website Wednesday morning.
Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified a treaty making the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions part of Russia. It followed Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” in four areas that Ukraine and the West rejected as a pretense.
On the ground, Moscow’s war in Ukraine has entered a new and more dangerous phase.
Although Russia’s claimed territorial boundaries remain unclear, the Kremlin has vowed to use all means, including nuclear weapons, to defend its territory, including newly absorbed territories.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to the annexation by announcing an application for early accession to NATO and formally excluding it from negotiations with Russia. President Zelensky’s order, released on Tuesday, declares that negotiations with Putin are no longer possible after he decided to occupy his four regions of Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine on Wednesday gave conflicting assessments of the Ukrainian offensive in the strategic South Kherson region, one of four areas Russia is seeking to annex.
Officials stationed by Russia in the Kherson region claimed that Ukrainian advances in the region had been halted.
“As of this morning … there has been no movement by the Kyiv army,” Kirill Stremsov said in a comment to state news agency RIA Novosti. “They will not enter Kherson, it is impossible,” he swore.
But the Kyiv army said Wednesday it had recaptured more villages in the Kherson region as part of a counteroffensive. The Southern Operations Command claimed the Ukrainian flag was raised over seven of his villages previously occupied by the Russians.
Multiple explosions rocked Villa Tserkva on the battlefield Wednesday morning, setting fire to what it described as infrastructure in the city south of the capital Kyiv, regional leader Oleksiy Kleva said in Telegram.
An early sign, he said, is that the city has been attacked by so-called kamikaze or suicide drones.
Bila Tserkva is located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Kyiv.
Russia has increasingly used suicide drones in recent weeks, posing new challenges to Ukraine’s defenses. Unmanned vehicles can remain airborne for long periods of time before diving into a target and detonating the payload at the last moment.
Many of the previous attacks by Iranian-made drones have occurred in the south of the country rather than near the capital, which has been untargeted for weeks.
In a subsequent post, Kleba said a total of six Shahed-136 drones attacked the city. In this attack he wounded one person.
Dozens of rescue workers were at the scene and continued to fight the fire hours after the attack was reported.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, the latest Russian shelling has killed at least five civilians and wounded eight, according to the Ukrainian president’s office.
According to Donetsk Governor Pablo Kirilenko, Russian forces shelled eight towns and villages in the Donetsk region.