The United States has accused Russia of laying the groundwork for the annexation of Ukrainian territory. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told a White House briefing that "illegitimate individuals" have been put in power, seeking full control over the territories they hold.
Kirby described the path mentioned by Russian-language media and Russian editorials of some European ones: appointment of an administration loyal to Moscow, introduction of the ruble as the main means of payment, compulsory application for citizenship.
"Today we have information -- including from declassified intelligence that we are able to share with you -- how Russia is laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory it controls in direct violation of Ukraine's sovereignty," Kirby said. "No one is fooled. (Russian President Vladimir Putin) is dusting off the 2014 book," he continued, referring to the annexation of Crimea.
This comes days after information that a referendum is possible in Zaporizhzhia region in September, according to statements by the local pro-Russian administration.
The poll would not be about independence, but - as was the case with Crimea - about joining Russia.
The Russian embassy in the US described the claims as "false".
The Kremlin has officially given mixed signals, including that such referendums should not be rushed or that the decision rests in the hands of local residents. Also according to the publication RBC, which refers to four sources close to the Russian presidency, the issue has been discussed in the institution, but with the idea that first it is necessary to call a referendum in the self-proclaimed (and recognized by Russia) "Donetsk People's Republic" and " Luhansk People's Republic".
In addition to the territories of the "DPR" and "LPR", almost all of Luhansk and most of the Donetsk region in the east, Kherson and most of the Zaporizhzhia region in the south and parts of Kharkiv in the northeast are in Russian hands. However, a Ukrainian counter-offensive is concentrated in the Kherson region.
At the same time, Kirby said that in the next few days, the United States will announce a new package of weapons for Ukraine. This will be the 16th appropriation approved by Congress and given under the direction of the President. The package is expected to include US HIMARS missile launchers and shells for multiple launch rocket systems, as well as artillery ammunition.