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Russia laying the groundwork to annex more of Ukraine, Kirby says

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U.S. warns of Russian plans to annex more territory
U.S. warns of Russian plans to annex more territory 02:14

The U.S. has intelligence that Russia is "laying the groundwork" to annex additional Ukrainian territory that it controls, "in direct violation of Ukraine's sovereignty," John Kirby, coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council, announced Tuesday.

Speaking from the White House briefing room, Kirby described how the U.S. believes Russia is taking steps toward annexing additional chunks of Ukraine, similar to how the Kremlin annexed Ukraine's Crimea in 2014. Kirby said Russia is already installing proxy officials to run these controlled regions, and doing things like forcing residents to apply for Russian citizenship, issuing Russian passports, and taking control of telecommunications infrastructure. Russia has been waging a war on Ukraine for nearly five months now.

"We are seeing ample evidence in intelligence and in the public domain that Russia intends to try to annex additional Ukrainian territory," Kirby said Tuesday. "Russia is beginning to rollout a version of what you could call an annexation playbook, very similar to the one we saw in 2014. Already, Russia is installing illegitimate proxy officials in the areas of Ukraine that are under its control. And we know their next moves."

"First, these proxy officials will arrange sham referenda on joining Russia," Kirby continued. "Then, Russia will use those sham referenda as a basis to try to claim annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory. The Russian government is reviewing detailed plans to purportedly annex a number of regions in Ukraine, including Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, all of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia's attempting to set the conditions on the ground by seeking to establish branches of Russian banks, to establish the rubble as the default currency in these areas and to sabotage civilian internet access. Russia's security services continue to target Ukrainians that they believe to be associated with resistance activities."

Kirby said the Kremlin hasn't shared a timeline for implementing 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's announcement comes the same day that the Bidens welcomed Ukraine's first lady, Olena Zelenska, to the White House. 

Kirby suggested any Russian denials would be meaningless, pointing back to when Russia said it didn't intend to invade Ukraine. 

"At the start of the year, Russia told the world that it was not planning to invade Ukraine, and now we're expected to believe that they're not gonna plan to annex Ukrainian territory," Kirby said.

The NSC official said annexation by force "would be a gross violation of the UN Charter, and we will not allow it to go unchallenged or unpunished." Kirby insisted there is no change to the United States' policy and dedication to helping Ukraine defend herself. 

Annexation and the installation of proxy officials would make a new stage of Russia's five-month war on Ukraine. The Kremlin's war continues to take the lives of civilians, even as Ukraine has dealt searing blows to Russia's military.

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