Kremlin unclear on which parts of Ukraine it has ‘annexed’

Vladimir Putin is seen on a screen set on Red Square as he addresses a rally and a concert marking the annexation of four regions of Ukraine. Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Russia

The Kremlin is still determining which areas of occupied Ukraine it has “annexed”, Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson has said, suggesting Russia does not know where its self-declared international borders are.

The surprising admission came in a phone call with journalists, during which Dmitry Peskov was peppered with requests to clarify to which Ukrainian territory Putin had laid claim at a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony last week.

Putin has vowed to protect Russia’s newly claimed territories using “all means at its disposal”, indicating a potential nuclear strike. The lack of a clear red line may undermine his attempts at using nuclear deterrence to halt Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive and western support for Kyiv.

Putin on Friday signed four separate “treaties” with the Kremlin-installed leaders of territories occupied by Russia in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

But Russia does not control parts of those regions and is losing ground to a Ukrainian counteroffensive that retook the city of Lyman in Donetsk region on Saturday in a major embarrassment for the Kremlin.

Peskov said Donetsk and Luhansk regions in their entirety were part of Russia, despite Russia’s lack of total control over their regions.

But Peskow said: “We will continue consultations with the population regarding the borders of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.”

Asked for clarification on the issue, which would also define where Russia’s self-declared international borders are located, Peskov said: “This is the definitive answer for now.”

The annexations are not recognised by the international community.

Russia does not control large parts of Zaporizhzhia region, including the main city of the same name. Ukrainian troops are also advancing in the Kherson region, putting Russia’s continued control of that city and the region west of the Dnieper River under question.

Ukraine: footage shows remains of Russian convoy fleeing Lyman – video

The remarks about the “annexed” territories are just the latest embarrassment for the Kremlin and its war machine. Over the weekend, several top officials and propagandists publicly criticised the senior military leadership for their inability to stop the Ukrainian advance.

“I do not know what the defence ministry reports to [Putin], but in my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken,” wrote Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, in a sharply worded post on social media following the loss of Lyman. He suggested further mobilisation of Russian society or the use of a low-yield nuclear weapon against Ukraine as a response.

Asked about Kadyrov’s statements, Peskov said they were driven by emotions. “Even in difficult moments, emotions must be excluded while making assessments. We prefer to stick to well-balanced, objective assessments.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s first mobilisation since the second world war has been dealt another setback as regional officials reported that thousands of Russian men called up to fight had to be sent home because of mistakes in the draft.

“Out of several thousand of our compatriots who had received a summons and arrived at military enlistment offices in the past 10 days, around half were sent back home for failing to meet the selection criteria,” said Mikhail Degtyarev, the governor of the far eastern Khabarovsk region.

Degtyarev said he had suspended the military commissar for the region and demanded that “any abuse [in the mobilisation process] must be stopped”.

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Andrew Roth in Moscow