Moscow is ready for talks with Kiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday at a ceremony for the signing of treaties on the inclusion of the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics (LPR and DPR), as well as the regions of Kherson and Zaporozhye, which declared independence from Ukraine, into Russia, the media reported.
"We call on the Kiev regime to cease all hostilities, stop the war it started back in 2014 and return to the negotiating table," he said, adding, however, that Moscow will not "betray" the territories that want to become a part of Russia, RT reported.
"People have made their choice. A clear one," Putin said, RT reported.
Putin has called on Kiev to treat the "free choice" made by the people of the four territories "with respect".
"That is the only way for peace," he added.
The president also warned that Russia would defend its territory using all means available and would do "everything to ensure the security of its people".
He also vowed to help the four territories joining Russia to rebuild, adding that their people would feel the support of all Russian regions, RT reported.
Friday's ceremony marks the start of the formal process of the four territories' accession to Russia. After Putin signs the accession treaties, they will be examined by the Constitutional Court and, if cleared, will be sent for ratification to the two chambers of the Russian parliament -- the State Duma and Federation Council. Russian lawmakers are expected to convene to discuss the issue next week.
In February 2022, Russia recognized the Donbass republics as independent states, accusing Kiev of failing to implement the Minsk agreements, designed to give the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk special status within the Ukrainian state. The protocols, brokered by Germany and France, were first signed in 2014.