White House says Russia is plotting to annex more Ukrainian territory

White House says Russia is plotting to annex more Ukrainian territory
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WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday it has detailed information outlining Russian efforts to annex additional Ukrainian territory, including forcing residents to apply for Russian citizenship, making the ruble the official currency and taking control of telecommunications networks.

Russian officials are reviewing plans to annex a number of regions, including Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk, by installing proxy officials to hold sham referendums on joining Russia to use as the basis for annexing the territory, said John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, during a briefing with reporters.

The moves described by Kirby are similar to those taken by Russia in 2014 when it annexed Crimea.

While additional annexation was largely expected, and has been unfolding to some extent in recent weeks, the White House said it was highlighting the efforts to send a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. is aware of its plans. Kirby said that if Russia proceeds, it would become “even more of a global pariah than it is now."

“We just wanted to make very plain for the American people what we’re seeing and make it very plain to Mr. Putin that nobody’s fooled by it. We know he’s just dusting off the old playbook from 2014, and we’re going to be watching this closely,” Kirby said.

“We’re also going to continue to expose the Russian plan so the world knows that any purported annexation is premeditated, illegal and illegitimate,” he said.

The Kremlin is laying the groundwork for annexation, Kirby said, by setting up Russian bank branches to establish the ruble as the default currency, taking control of broadcasting towers, replacing telecommunications infrastructure and issuing Russian passports.

The situation in the Kherson region. (Anatoliy Zhdanov / Sipa USA via AP)
The situation in the Kherson region. (Anatoliy Zhdanov / Sipa USA via AP)

Kirby said the U.S. would announce another military assistance package to Ukraine this week, which will include high mobility advanced rocket systems, additional multiple launch rocket systems and artillery ammunition.

“The Ukrainian military will work to retake that territory," Kirby said. "The Ukrainian people will resist Russian control and seek to drive Russia out as they have been doing."