Russia is laying the groundwork for the annexation of Ukrainian territory and is installing illegitimate proxy officials in areas there under its control as it seeks to exert total control over its gains in the east, the White House said on Tuesday.
Unveiling what he said was U.S. intelligence, John Kirby, the chief national security council spokesperson, told a White House news briefing that the Russians are preparing to install proxy officials, establish the ruble as the default currency and force residents to apply for citizenship.
“We have information today, including from downgraded intelligence that we’re able to share with you, about how Russia is laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Kirby said.
It is the same tactic used in 2014 when Russia announced its annexation of Crimea after taking control of it from Ukraine, Kirby said. The international community considers Crimea’s annexation illegitimate.
“We want to make it plain to the American people,” Kirby said. “Nobody is fooled by it. [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is dusting off the playbook from 2014.”
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it calls a “special military operation” to ensure its own security.
Russia is also attempting to take control of broadcasting towers, he said.
At the same time, Kirby said, the United States in the next few days will announce a new weapons package for Ukraine as it engages Russia in fierce battles in Eastern Ukraine.
It will be the 16th such drawdown of money approved by Congress and allocated under presidential authority, he said.
The package is expected to include U.S. mobile rocket launchers, known as HIMARS and rounds for Multiple Launch Rocket Systems as well as artillery munitions, sources said.
The United States has provided $8 billion US in security assistance since the war began, including $2.2 billion US in the last month.
Washington will impose sanctions on officials involved in representing themselves as proxy officials, Kirby said. He predicted these proxies would try to hold “sham referenda” seeking to legitimatize Russian control.
Zelenskyy fires another top official
Ukraine’s parliament dismissed the domestic security chief and prosecutor general on Tuesday, two days after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suspended them for failing to root out Russian spies.
Ivan Bakanov was fired from his position at the helm of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) by a comfortable majority, several lawmakers said on the Telegram messaging app.
The head of Zelenskyy’s political faction said Iryna Venediktova had also been voted out as prosecutor general.
Zelenskyy later announced he had fired one of the SBU’s deputy heads but gave no details. In a late night video address, he also said he had appointed five new regional SBU directors.
In a statement published on Telegram minutes before his dismissal was confirmed, Bakanov said “miscalculations” had been made during his tenure, but that he was proud of his record.
After the vote, ruling parliamentary party leader and close Zelenskyy ally David Arakhamia wrote on Telegram that Venediktova “remains in the team,” and implied that she was due for a diplomatic posting.
“Her experience will serve the state in a new place, which needs to be strengthened by professional managers and lawyers,” he wrote.
Russia strikes Ukraine’s East, South
Russian missiles struck cities and villages in eastern and southern Ukraine, hitting homes, a school and a community centre on Tuesday.
In Kramatorsk, a city in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province considered a likely Russian occupation target, one person was killed and 10 wounded in an airstrike that hit a five-storey apartment building, regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Fresh blood stained the concrete amid green leaves that were torn off trees as nearby apartments on at least two floors burned. Shrapnel was placed in a small pile near an empty playground.
The midday strike came after Kyrylenko had reported four earlier Russian strikes in Kramatorsk and urged civilians to evacuate.
In the east, Ukrainian forces are fighting to hold onto the declining territory under their control. Donetsk has been cut off from gas supplies and partly from water and power as the Russians try to complete their capture of the province.
Russia’s ground advance has slowed, in part because Ukraine is using more effective U.S. weapons and partly because of what Putin has called an “operational pause.” Russia has been focusing more on aerial bombardment using long-range missiles.
In the Odesa region of southern Ukraine, Russian forces fired seven Kalibr cruise missiles overnight. The Russian Defence Ministry said strikes on the village of Bilenke achieved a legitimate military goal and “destroyed depots of ammunition for weapons supplied by the United States and European countries.”
A local official disputed Moscow’s claim and said six people were wounded.
With indications that Ukraine is planning counterattacks to retake occupied areas, the Russian military in recent weeks has targeted Odesa and parts of southern Ukraine where its troops captured cities earlier in the war.