Ukraine is responding to Russia’s plan to annex a large swath of its territory with a request for fast-track approval to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally announced plans to annex roughly one-fifth of Ukraine, which CNN notes violates international law.
Putin claimed the move would make people who live in those areas Russian citizens “forever.” The affected regions include Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia.
In response to the attempted land grab, Ukraine asked for an “accelerated accession” to become a NATO member.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday, “We trust each other, we help each other and we protect each other. This is what the Alliance is. De facto. Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure.”
“It is in Ukraine that the fate of democracy in the confrontation with tyranny is being decided,” he added.
It is not likely NATO will be moving quickly to welcome Ukraine into the alliance — which could require member nations to send troops to defend it.
But at the very least, it is a thumb in the eye of Putin, who has previously expressed concern about NATO’s eastward expansion. The Russian leader used concerns about Ukraine joining the alliance as a pretext for his invasion in late February.
The move to annex Ukraine’s territory comes as Russia has faced massive battlefield losses and given up thousands of square miles of territory. One American intelligence assessment estimated 500 Russian troops were being killed or wounded every day.
As the momentum shifted in the war, Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of Russia’s armed forces. He stated, “Only those citizens will be drafted to military service who are currently in the reserve and first of all those who have served in the army, who have certain professions and have necessary experience.”
And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that 300,000 reservists would be called up to “hold the line at the front.”
The mobilization announcement sparked an exodus of tens of thousands of men seeking to avoid being drafted.
Earlier this week, sham referendums on joining Russia were held in the regions expected to join Russia. And Putin has injected fresh concerns about the potential use of nuclear weapons as he said Russia would use “all the means at our disposal,” to defend its “territorial integrity.”
The annexation ploy seems to be an attempt to dissuade Ukraine from continuing its counter-offensive — by potentially threatening to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack on “Russian” territory. But it also appears to be a cover for the mobilization. Instead of admitting that Russia is currently suffering massive losses in an unprovoked war, officials can claim its territory is under attack.
But Zelenskyy’s move is a defiant one that shows Ukraine will not be deterred from growing closer to the West. Putin can threaten the country and even invade it, but he cannot intimidate them into acceding to his demands.
And it could be a signal that not only will Ukraine not drop its request to join NATO, but it is determined not to make major concessions even if they bring about an end to the war.
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