Moscow is laying the groundwork to make swathes of Ukrainian territory part of Russia, the White House says
Russia is preparing to annex Ukrainian lands by arranging “sham” referendums on the territories it currently controls, like it did with Crimea eight years ago, the White House has said.
“We have information today, including from downgraded intelligence that we’re able to share with you, about how Russia is laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” John Kirby, US intelligence, National Security Council spokesman, told journalists on Tuesday.
Russia launched a military campaign against Ukraine in late February.
The US and their allies under NATO responded by imposing sweeping sanctions on Moscow and provided Kiev with heavy weapons.
While fighting alongside the forces of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), Russian troops took control of Ukraine’s southern Kherson Region and the majority of Zaporozhye Region. They also took areas of Ukraine’s Kharkov Region, which borders the LPR.
Kirby argued that Moscow would organize “sham” referendums on the occupied territories, while using what he called “an annexation playbook, very similar to the one we saw in 2014.” That year, Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia in the wake of a coup in Kiev. Kirby promised “additional sanctions” if Russia annexes Ukrainian lands.
The Russian Embassy in Washington released a statement on social media on Tuesday, saying that “the claims about the aggressive nature of the Russian military’s special operation are fundamentally false.”
“We are returning peace to the liberated territories, creating circumstances for normal life and respect for equal rights of citizens regardless of ethnicity and language.”
The embassy added that “the leadership of the Russian Federation has repeatedly stated that the population of the liberated territories will decide on their future independently, by themselves.”
Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, noted that “the US has been, and is imposing ‘additional sanctions’ even without the accession of the regions of Ukraine to Russia.”
The threat of more sanctions will have no effect on Russia’s decision making, Zakharova wrote on her Telegram channel. “On the contrary, it has strengthened the determination to act in accordance with the chosen path.”