Russia plans to annex eastern and southern Ukraine later this year, the US says


The White House on Tuesday doubled down on its claim that Russia will seek to annex more Ukrainian territory, warning Moscow intends to do so claim large parts of the east and south of the country sometime later this year.

“Russia is beginning to put out a version of what you might call an ‘annexation playbook,'” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, citing what he called “sufficient evidence” collected by Western intelligence agencies and already “in the public domain” that suggests President Vladimir Putin wants to take it Kherson, Zaporizhia and the Donbass region “in direct violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine”.

“First, these proxies will arrange mock referendums on joining Russia. Then Russia will use these mock referendums as a basis to try to call for the annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory,” Kirby told reporters during Tuesday’s White House news briefing. Kirby added that the referendums “will take place later this year, possibly in conjunction with the regional elections in Russia.”

The Kremlin is actively reviewing “detailed plans,” he said.

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Russia refined its “annexation playbook” in 2014 when it occupied the Crimean peninsula and subjected it to a referendum, effectively bringing the region under Russian rule. It remains a de facto part of Russia, despite efforts by the international community to condemn and punish Moscow for the move.

Putin has never attempted a similar move with parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that fell under the control of pro-Russian separatists during heavy fighting in the Donbass after the annexation of Crimea. But Kirby said Russia has been preparing for such a land grab, and is doing so with increasing urgency as it slowly pushes its crew deeper into Ukrainian territory.

He cited examples of Moscow installing Russian banks and adopting the ruble as its official currency, forcing residents to apply for Russian citizenship and passports, installing loyalists as regional government officials, and controlling cell towers, the Internet, and other telecommunications infrastructure to gain complete control ensure the information that residents receive.

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The United States and its partners have responded to some of these moves by sanctioning some of the local and regional governors that Russia has installed to govern the territories it occupies. Kirby vowed Tuesday that Washington “won’t allow” any annexation “to go unchallenged or with impunity,” promising that “Russia will face additional sanctions and become even more of a global pariah than it is now.”

The United States, Canada, Europe and other allies have imposed record-breaking sanctions on Russia that have impacted the domestic economy. But Moscow’s continued energy exports, coupled with high oil and gas prices, have helped soften the blow Washington was hoping for.

Kirby said the United States would “continue to provide historic levels of security assistance to Ukraine” and announced an additional military aid package that is expected to be announced later this week. The package will include more artillery systems and long-range ammunition, Kirby said, predicting such weapons would help Ukrainian resistance fighters “take back the territory” Russia wants to annex.

It’s unclear whether the United States will send Ukraine the requested more powerful systems — or rescind its request that the Kyiv government not use advanced missile systems to attack Russian territory. The government has attempted to impose these conditions because it fears that counterattacks on Russian land could be interpreted by Moscow as an escalation and trigger a backlash that the West hopes to avoid.

Should Russia is laying claim to parts of Ukraine, it could force a moment of reckoning on the United States, observers say.

“I have never understood this message that in the context of war, the victim of war has no right to take revenge against the aggressor. Of course, they have the right to retaliate,” said Alina Polyakova, President and Executive Director of the Center for European Policy Analysis. “It is obviously Ukraine’s right to keep trying to retake these territories because they are occupied territories and I hope we don’t treat them like Russia and then try to prevent Ukraine from launching counter-offensives.”

Polyakova noted that events in Crimea point to more territories that Russia may annex could also be subject to further western sanctions.

“Although no one will officially recognize these areas as part of Russia,” she said, “they are de facto treated the same way.” Russia plans to annex eastern and southern Ukraine later this year, the US says

Dustin Huang

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