The United States has “ample evidence” that Russia plans to annex additional Ukrainian territory, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
Kirby, speaking from the White House briefing, said that Russian-installed officials in some areas of Ukraine held by Moscow plan to organize “sham referendums” on joining Russia that will be used as a basis to annex the Ukrainian territory.
Russia is preparing to focus its efforts on Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and all of Donetsk and Luhansk, he said.
“Russia is laying the groundwork to annex more Ukrainian territory that it controls, in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Kirby said.
Kirby likened the “annexation playbook” to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which triggered a wave of international sanctions.
He said the efforts also involve establishing Russian banks on the ground in Ukraine to make the Russian ruble the “default currency” of these regions.
Kirby said the timeline of Russia’s annexation plans is unclear but that Moscow could put them in motion later this year, timed with regional elections. Russia’s war in Ukraine is about to enter its sixth month.
The Biden administration has periodically declassified and released intelligence information about Russian plans in Ukraine in efforts to disrupt or deter those operations. It has withheld details on the source of the intelligence so as not to compromise sources or methods.
Kirby told reporters Tuesday that the new assessment relied on both open-source information in the public domain and intelligence.
Russia has already installed officials in areas of Ukraine it controls, including Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, and there has long been chatter that Russia could move to annex Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s east, where Moscow’s forces are currently focusing their military operations.
Asked about what was new about the information he was citing on Tuesday, Kirby declined to provide specifics but insisted there would be a “concerted effort” by the part of Russia.
The U.S. may announce more sanctions targeting Russians involved in the plots, but there were no immediate announcements on penalties.
The new information came shortly after President Biden and first lady Jill Biden met with Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska, who is on a rare trip to Washington.
The U.S. has provided billions in security assistance to Ukraine to help the country fend off the persistent and bloody Russian assault. The Biden administration has also been sharing intelligence with Ukrainian officials.
The administration plans to announce another tranche of military assistance for Ukraine later this week, Kirby told reporters, which will include additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and multiple-launch rocket systems.
This story was updated at 5:08 p.m.
Source: The Hill