The White House has warned that Russia is beginning to roll out its plans to annex large parts of southern Ukraine by installing proxy officials and preparing to hold stage-managed referendums.
John Kirby, head of strategic communications at the US National Security Council, said on Tuesday that Moscow had started laying the groundwork for its annexation plans, which have been widely anticipated since its troops started to gain control of the region.
Kirby told reporters at the White House: “Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an annexation playbook — very similar to the one we saw in 2014,” referring to when the Kremlin sent special forces into Crimea to capture territory before holding a carefully controlled referendum on sovereignty.
“Already Russia is installing illegitimate proxy officials in the areas of Ukraine that are under its control, and we know their next moves,” he added. “First, these proxy officials will arrange sham referenda on joining Russia, then Russia will use those sham referenda as a basis to try to claim annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory.”
Kirby said the Kremlin had detailed plans in place to annex the cities of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, as well as the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions. He said Russia is attempting to set up branches of Russian banks in the region, taking control of broadcasting towers, establishing security services loyal to Moscow, issuing Russian passports and forcing residents to apply for Russian citizenship.
Kirby noted that most other countries do not recognise the Kremlin’s previous annexation of Crimea.
Senior Russian officials have previously signalled they intend to hold votes in the regions they have captured on whether those areas should become part of Russia. In May, Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian president Vladimir Putin, told reporters “the residents of Kherson should decide” whether to become part of Russia.
Kirby warned that if Russia pushes ahead with its plans it will become “even more of a global pariah” and will face additional international sanctions — though he did not specify what those would be.