STORY: A defiant Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia's annexation of a swath of Ukraine territory in a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony Friday, promising Moscow would triumph in its "special military operation" against Kyiv even as some of his troops faced threat of defeat.
"Today we are making this choice. Residents of Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, residents of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions have made it. They have chosen to be with their people, to be with the Motherland, to live its destiny, to win together with it."
Russia's proclamation of rule over 15% of Ukraine - the biggest annexation in Europe since World War Two - has been firmly rejected by Western countries and even many of Russia's close allies.
Russia moved to annex the regions after holding what it called referendums – votes that were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.
In one of the toughest anti-American speeches he has delivered in more than two decades, Putin slammed the West as neo-colonial and Satanist.
"Such a total denial of a human being, a rejection of faith and traditional values, suppression of freedom begins to look like a perverted religion, outright Satanism."
But the event was overshadowed by one of Russia's worst battlefield defeats of the war, with Russian troops at their main garrison in Donetsk province surrounded by Ukrainian forces, just after Putin ordered a massive mobilization to get hundreds of thousands of Russian men to the frontlines.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy said he was ready for peace talks if and when Russia got a new president and announced that Ukraine was formally applying for fast-track membership to NATO - a military alliance Moscow fiercely opposes.
“All the territory of our country will be liberated from this enemy... This is why it rushes forward by organizing farce to attempt an annexation, trying to steal what doesn’t belong to it, wants to rewrite history and redraw borders using murder, blackmail, mistreatment and lies.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday reaffirmed NATO's "unwavering support" for Ukraine.
"This land grab is illegal and illegitimate. NATO allies do not and will not recognize any of this territory as part of Russia."
He said Russia's actions are the most serious escalation of the conflict since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February.