Russia plans to claim large parts of Ukraine as its own — part of what the White House called “an illegal land grab” Tuesday.
Citing declassified intelligence, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby warned that the Kremlin was planning to say the Ukrainian territory around Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and the whole of the Donbas belonged to Russia.
“Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an annexation playbook,” Kirby said during Tuesday’s White House press briefing. “Already, Russia is installing illegitimate proxy officials in areas of Ukraine that are under its control.”
Kirby likened the Russian activity to that which came before Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
“First, these proxy officials will arrange sham referenda on joining Russia,” he said. “Then Russia will use those sham referenda as a basis to try to claim annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory.”
Though western powers and Ukrainian authorities have publicly speculated that Russia may try to annex parts of Ukraine — and Russian puppets have openly declared occupied territory to be Russian — Kirby said the intelligence indicated that the Kremlin’s annexation efforts were becoming “more concerted [and] more strategic” than before.
Last week, an occupation official in Zaporizhzhia said a referendum could be held within the next few months.
Kirby said that Russia was setting up Russian banks throughout the occupied territories to establish the use of the ruble there, cutting off access to the Ukrainian internet, forcing Ukrainians to apply for Russian citizenship and issuing Russian passports.
In Kherson, the southern region bordering Crimea, Kirby said Russian forces had taken control of broadcast towers and established security forces loyal to Moscow.
“Annexation by force would be a gross violation of the UN charter, and we will not allow it to go unchallenged or unpunished,” Kirby said.
“Any sham efforts to legitimize an illegal land grab will only make things worse for Russia,” he added.
Asked to elaborate, Kirby threatened more severe sanctions against the Kremlin and its lackeys.
“Waging war is an expensive business,” he said.
Kirby also said the White House would be announcing an additional delivery of HIMARS mobile rocket launchers to Ukraine in the coming days, as part of the Biden administration’s continued military support for Ukrainian forces.
“We’re also going to continue to expose Russian plans, so the world knows that any purported annexation is premeditated, illegal, and illegitimate,” he said.
The Kremlin did not immediately issue a response, but the Russian state-run news service TASS reported on Kirby’s comments, claiming that 96.7% of Crimean voters supported annexation by Russia in 2014.
That 2014 referendum was considered invalid by 13 members of the 15-nation United Nations Security Council. A resolution declaring it invalid was vetoed by Russia, a member of the council. China abstained from the vote.