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‘We Know Their Next Moves’: White House Thinks Putin Will Annex Ukrainian Territory

M777 Marine Corps
SYRIA - U.S. Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire an M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, Mar. 24, 2017. The unit provided 24/7 support in all weather conditions to allow for troop movements, to include terrain denial and the subduing of enemy forces. More than 60 regional and international nations have joined together to enable partnered forces to defeat ISIS and restore stability and security. CJTF-OIR is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (Note: these are similar weapons to the ones being sent to Ukraine).

The White House says that they’ve seen evidence that the Russian government intends to annex the Ukrainian territory it seized during its invasion. (read more of our extensive Ukraine coverage written by world-class experts here.)

According to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, Russia is resorting to the same playbook it used in Crimea eight years ago in 2014 when they annexed Crimea after invading Ukraine’s territory. 

“Russia is installing illegitimate proxy officials in Ukraine’s areas under its control. We know their next moves,” Kirby said. “We want to make it plain to the American people. Nobody is fooled by it,” he added.

Kirby characterized these moves as being “in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” adding that they intend to conduct “sham referenda votes,” to join Russia as well as to force Ukrainian citizens to apply for Russian citizenship. 

“Annexation by force would be a gross violation of the U.N. Charter, and we will not allow it to go unchallenged or unpunished,” Kirby said, adding that additional U.S. sanctions would follow. 

“We’re going to respond swiftly and severely and in lockstep with our allies and partners,” he said. “Russia will face additional sanctions and become even more of a global pariah than it is now. We will never recognize any purportedly annexed territories belonging to Russia.”

Russian Crimean Playbook Points To Annexation: 

“Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an annexation playbook,” Kirby said during a White House press briefing. 

Kirby added that there was “ample evidence in the intelligence and in the public domain” of the Russians using the same tactics they used in Crimea, including installing the ruble as the national currency by installing Russian banks inside Ukraine. 

He said that areas that may be in Russia’s annexation plan include Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

“The Kremlin has not disclosed the timeline for 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 said.

Luhansk Establishes 18-Person “Embassy” in Moscow:

According to a report by Russia’s TASS news agency, the Russian proxy breakaway “Luhansk People’s Republic” has announced that it ordered the establishment of an 18-person embassy in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin formally recognized the breakaway Luhansk region and another breakaway region in eastern Ukraine – the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) – as independent republics just days before ordering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which he characterized as a “special military operation.”

When Lunhansk first attempted to break away from Ukraine in 2014, it was aided by what Putin bragged were “little green men” in Russian military uniforms, driving Russian military vehicles with no patches to identify them positively. 

Russia, Iran, and Turkey Summit Meeting:

While Russia and Iran are allies of convenience, with little trust between the two nations, two fellow countries dealing with sanctions by the U.S. sometimes can make strange bedfellows. Because of this, they are solidifying their relations, and Putin got the full support for the Ukrainian invasion from Tehran. 

Severodonetsk, Donbas

Russian artillery firing in Donbas. Image Credit: Russian Government.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei went far beyond what other Russian allies have done thus far with his support for Moscow’s invasion. 

“War is a violent and difficult endeavor, and the Islamic Republic is not at all happy that people are caught up in war,” Mr. Khamenei told Mr. Putin, according to the supreme leader’s office. “But in the case of Ukraine, if you had not taken the helm, the other side would have done so and initiated a war.”

President Erdogan of Turkey pressed for further action in Syria, which Iran warned against. But he made nominal progress with opening up the Black Sea for Ukrainian grain to flow. 

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

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Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.