Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech on Sept. 30, 2022, declaring the annexation of Ukrainian territory. Photo via screengrab, Political Russia on YouTube.
KYIV, Ukraine — With Russia's invasion forces facing another defeat in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech Friday, Sept. 30, announcing the annexation of four Ukrainian territories currently under Russian military occupation. At times truly bizarre, Putin’s speech denied the battlefield reality in Ukraine and pushed conspiracy theories about a Western cabal conspiring to "destroy" Russia.
"The West is looking for new ways to strike against our country, to weaken and destroy Russia,” Putin said, adding: “Western hegemony will be smashed. This is inevitable. We must do this for our people, the great historical Russia."
“Today's remarks were filled with Soviet-style paranoia and anti-Western hatred. They also featured bizarre claims, for example that the US planned to bring down the global economy,” William Courtney, an adjunct senior at the Rand Corp, and a former US ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
During Friday's televised ceremony from the Kremlin in Moscow, Putin led a signing ceremony with the Russian-installed leaders from occupied territory in Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions. Last week, Russian occupation forces orchestrated illegitimate referendums in those regions, in which voters — reportedly at gunpoint, in some cases — allegedly voted by overwhelming margins to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.
While Putin's annexation ceremony played out on Friday afternoon, a Ukrainian counteroffensive encircled about 5,500 Russian troops in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lyman, within the Donetsk region. This latest Ukrainian advance marks what may be the most devastating single defeat for Russia since the full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24. It also reflects a military reality on the ground that sharply contradicts Putin’s speech.
According to Courtney: “Putin laid a propaganda basis for escalating Russia's military aggression, but he did not prepare his audience for the likelihood that Ukrainian forces may soon retake more cities in the annexed regions, such as Lyman in Donetsk region or Kherson, the capital of Kherson region. These losses could be quite embarrassing for the Kremlin."
Despite the annexation announcement, Putin’s speech often veered far from Ukraine, sometimes straying into outlandish tangents meant to paint Russia’s full-scale invasion this year as part of a broad, civilizational struggle against America and the West.
Between quips about sex-change surgery and satanism, Putin also claimed that the US and its Western allies, driven by “Russophobia,” are determined to make Russia a “colony” and turn Russians into “voiceless slaves.”
Referencing the Opium Wars, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II, the Indian Mutiny, and the Vietnam War, Putin said Russia was leading a global fight to oppose US and Western “colonial” influence.
"The West has said for centuries it is bringing freedom and democracy to the world. Everything is exactly the opposite," Putin said.
Putin also blamed the US for the recent explosions that destroyed Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic Sea. Many defense experts and NATO officials say the blasts were most likely part of a covert Russian sabotage operation.
In a Friday social media post, Alexander Dugin, a far-right Russian philosopher and Putin ally, described the Putin’s speech as “a fundamental declaration of war against the modern West and modern world in general."
"This is a manifesto of tradition," Dugin wrote on Telegram. "I can't imagine how profound the consequences are."
In one eyebrow-raising remark on Friday, Putin claimed the US created a “precedent” by using nuclear weapons against Japan in World War II.
"The US is the only country in history that has ever used nuclear weapons. Creating a precedent, by the way,” Putin said. In Friday's speech, Putin said Russia would use “all the means at our disposal" to “defend our lands” and “protect our people.”
"This is our great liberating mission," Putin said.
Altogether, those remarks amplified mounting concerns in Ukraine that Russia may resort to nuclear strikes to save its beleaguered invasion force from outright defeat. This week, for example, a top Ukrainian intelligence official warned of a “very high” risk of Russian forces using a tactical nuclear weapon in combat.
Over this past week, Ukrainian social media channels have filled with instruction manuals and advice about how to survive a nuclear strike. Chilling to read, these texts conjure images of some of the Cold War’s darkest periods.
“I view this annexation and speech as a sign that [Russia] needs high intensity fighting to end immediately,” Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp., told Coffee or Die. “Annexation is the quickest route to that end — from Moscow’s perspective only. Ukraine and its supporters are continuing their efforts. Putin’s speech relied on vague nuclear threats and mentions of a ceasefire, which Kyiv cannot accept.”
Putin’s speech drew sharp criticism from the US and Western allies. On Friday, the White House issued a statement from President Joe Biden who condemned “Russia’s fraudulent attempt today to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory.”
In the statement, Biden announced new sanctions against Russia for Friday’s annexation.
“We will rally the international community to both denounce these moves and to hold Russia accountable,” Biden said.
As of this article’s publication, it wasn’t clear whether Putin’s annexation order included all of the Ukrainian territories in question, or just the areas currently under Russian occupation. In any case, Russia now claims to have annexed about 18% to 22% of Ukraine’s total land area.
Closing his speech, Putin said to standing ovation, “Truth is on our side.”
After Putin concluded, the host on the online Russian news program, Political Russia, opened a bottle of champagne and toasted, “To a bigger and stronger Russia.”
Just a few hours earlier, Russian missiles struck a line of civilian vehicles at a checkpoint exiting Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region. At least 23 civilians died in the attack, according to Ukraine’s military.