Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a concert marking the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, on March 18, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.
- Russia is planning on annexing more Ukrainian territory, an NSC spokesman said on Tuesday.
- Russia will hold “sham referenda” and use them as the basis to annex territory under its control in Ukraine.
- Moscow is “is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an annexation playbook,” the NSC’s John Kirby said.
Russia is “laying the groundwork” to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls in violation of the country’s sovereignty, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said at a press briefing on Tuesday, citing US intelligence.
“We’re seeing ample evidence in the intelligence and in the public domain that Russia intends to try annex additional Ukrainian territory,” Kirby said.
Moscow is “is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an annexation playbook, very similar to the one we saw in 2014,” Kirby said, referencing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea eight years ago.
“The Russian government is reviewing detailed plans to purportedly annex a number of regions in Ukraine, including Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, all of Donetsk and Luhansk,” Kirby said.
Russia is already “installing illegitimate proxy officials” in the areas of Ukraine under its control, Kirby said. These officials will arrange “sham referenda on joining Russia,” Kirby added, going on to say that Moscow will then use the “sham referenda as a basis to try to claim annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory.”
“The Kremlin has not disclosed the timeline for the referenda, but Russian proxies in these territories claim they will take place later this year, possibly in conjunction with Russia’s September regional elections,” Kirby said.
To set up the conditions on the ground to make these moves, Kirby said Russia is attempting to establish the ruble as the default currency in the areas under its control, sabotaging civilian internet access, targeting Ukrainians perceived as associated with resistance activities, and forcing Ukrainians to apply for Russian citizenship. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that opened the door for fast-tracked Russian citizenship for all Ukrainians.
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“We just wanted to make very plain for the American people what we’re seeing and make it very plain to Mr. Putin that nobody’s fooled by it,” Kirby said. “We know he’s just dusting off the old playbook from 2014, and we’re going to be watching this closely.”
The Biden administration has repeatedly taken the unusual step of publicly disclosing US intelligence on Russia’s plans in Ukraine, as part of an effort to preempt and derail the Kremlin’s objectives.
The Ukrainian government has consistently underscored that it will not cede territory to Russia in order to end the war. If Russia annexes Ukrainian territory, it could have major implications on any peace talks moving forward.
Though Putin has offered shifting justifications for Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine — including the bogus claim that it’s led by neo-Nazis — it’s widely agreed by top experts that he is waging a war of conquest. For years, Putin has claimed that Ukraine is not a real country and signaled that he believes it belongs to and should be controlled by Russia. Last month, Putin compared himself to Peter the Great and characterized Ukraine as territory that is historically Russian, effectively admitting that the war is a product of his imperialistic ambitions.
Ukraine and Russia share close cultural and historical links, but Putin has rewritten history to justify his attacks on Ukrainian sovereignty. Throughout its history, much of what is now part of modern Ukraine was conquered by various empires — including the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. But Ukraine also has its own distinct culture and history, and Ukrainians overwhelmingly voted to be independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.