The US administration has revealed it will provide additional weapons and security assistance to Ukraine later this week, as the U.S. has collected “ample evidence” and intelligence that Russia is laying the groundwork to annex additional sovereign Ukrainian territory.
The revelation by the US comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told state media on Wednesday, July 20 that Russia’s objectives in Ukraine now extend beyond the eastern Donbas region into the country’s south.
As the war in Ukraine approaches its fifth month, Sergey Lavrov told state media that the “geography is different.”
“It is far from being only DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) and LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic), it is also Kherson Region, Zaporizhzhia Region and a number of other territories, and this process continues, it continues steadily and persistently,” Lavrov said during an interview with RIA Novosti, published Wednesday.
Lavrov pointed out that as the West continues to supply Ukraine with more long-range weaponry, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Russia’s geographical objectives in Ukraine would move further away from the current line of the Donbas region.
“We cannot allow any weapons in the part of Ukraine controlled by Zelensky or whoever will replace him that pose a direct threat to our territory or the territory of the republics that declared independence or those that wish to determine their future independently,” Lavrov said.
“The President was very clear, as you quoted: denazification and demilitarization in the sense that there should be no threat to our security, no military threat from Ukraine’s territory, and this objective remains,” Lavrov said.
The White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby has now said that downgraded intelligence shows that Russia is beginning to roll out an “annexation playbook” — similar to its plans in 2014 as it annexed Crimea.
Kirby said Russia is installing “illegitimate proxy officials.”
“We know their next moves,” Kirby said, noting proxy officials will “arrange a sham referendum on joining Russia. Then Russia will sue 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” Kirby said, including “all of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast.”
In Kherson, Kirby said Russia has taken control of broadcasting towers, established “loyalist security forces” and replaced telecommunications infrastructure. Kirby said the Kremlin has also forced residents to apply for Russian citizenship, and are issuing Russian passports.
“The Kremlin has not disclosed the timeline for the referendum, but Russian proxies in these territories claim they will take place later this year, possibly in conjunction with Russia’s September regional elections,” Kirby explained.
Annexation by force, Kirby said, would be a “gross violation of the U.N. charter.”
“We will not allow it to go unchallenged or unpunished,” he said, adding that the U.S. will “continue to provide Ukraine with historic levels of security assistance.”
Later this week, the US will announce the 16th presidential drawdown package of weapons and equipment for Ukraine since President Biden took office.
Kirby said the package is expected to include more HIMARS — also known as highly-mobile advanced rocket systems, and additional rounds of multiple launch rocket systems and artillery ammunition.
“We’re also going to continue to expose Russian plans so the world knows that any purported annexation is premeditated, illegal and illegitimate,” Kirby said, adding that the Biden administration is also sanctioning the “Russian-installed puppets and proxies” in areas of Ukraine that are under Russian control.
“If Russia nevertheless proceeds with their annexation plans, we’re going to respond swiftly and severely and in lockstep with our allies and partners,” Kirby continued. “Russia will face additional sanctions and become even more of a global pariah than it is now.”
He added that the U.S. “will never recognize any purportedly annexed territories belonging to Russia,” and said the Biden administration will “support accountability, efforts for forced deportations, prosecutions of oppositionists and other gross human rights abuses carried out by Russia.