Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday said that his country is submitting an "accelerated" application to join the NATO military alliance after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of four partially-occupied Ukrainian regions.
"We are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine's application for accelerated accession to NATO," Al Jazeera quoted Zelenskyy as saying. Meanwhile, the European Council, a body comprised of the leaders of the European Union's 27 member states, accused the Kremlin of putting global security at risk, according to a statement released by the European Council.
European Union leaders condemned Russia's "illegal" annexation of Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions and vowed that they will "never recognise" these areas.
According to the statement, the member countries said that they will never recognise the illegal 'referenda' that Russia has engineered as a pretext for this further violation of Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, nor their falsified and illegal results.
The member countries called the decision null and void and said that it cannot produce any legal effect whatsoever. "Crimea, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk are Ukraine. We call on all States and international organisations to unequivocally reject this illegal annexation," the statement added.
This comes after, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday formally announced the annexation of four regions - Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and claimed that "this is the will of millions of people."
As per the media reports, Putin said the residents in the four annexed regions will now be Russia's "citizens forever".
"There are four new regions of Russia," Putin said in a lengthy speech declaring the annexation of Ukrainian territories in the St George's Hall at a Kremlin ceremony. The speech was filled with highly critical rhetoric about Ukraine and its Western allies, reported Al Jazeera.
While denying seeking revival of the Soviet Union by the said annexation, Putin accused Western states - which have imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
Moreover, in a strong statement, Putin also added that Russia would now defend its new territory "with all the means at its disposal."
Defending its decision to go ahead with the referendum and announce the annexation of the region, the Russian President argued it was the "integral right" of people in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to join Russia, reported Al Jazeera.
Speaking further, Putin claimed that the people in eastern Ukraine made up of Donetsk and Luhansk - had been "victims of inhumane terrorist attacks conducted by the Kyiv regime".
He also called the result of the referendum "the will of millions of people."
In a major move by Russia, President Putin had signed a decree recognizing the so-called "independence" of the Ukrainian regions Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
Moreover, the UN Security Council is set to vote Friday on a resolution that would seek to condemn Russia for its referenda in four regions under Russian control but claimed by Ukraine, media reports said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said any annexation of a state's territory by another state resulting from a "threat or use of force" is a violation of the UN charter and international law.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of the annexation of Ukrainian territories and called it illegal under international laws, media reports said. Describing Russia's move as an act of 'land grab', the top US diplomat said that the US will never recognise the annexation by Moscow.
"The Kremlin's sham referenda are a futile effort to mask what amounts to a further attempt at a land grab in Ukraine," Blinken said in a statement. (ANI)