Washington believes Russia is preparing to annex large swaths of southern and eastern Ukraine, a senior US diplomat said on Monday.
“We believe that Russia will try to annex the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic to so-called Russia,” said Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
He added that the United States had reports indicating that “Russia intends to hold referendums on its membership in mid-May and that Moscow is considering a similar plan for Kherson”, in a tactic he described as “straight out of the Kremlin playbook”.
Russia previously held independence referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014. The United States felt it had similar plans for the Ukrainian city of Kherson, which Russia occupied in early March, Carpenter said.
“Just as Russia designed these quasi-states, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, now we believe that the Kremlin may be trying to organize a Kherson People’s Republic in Kherson Oblast, in southern Ukraine,” he said.
Carpenter declined to provide further details on the reports, citing a US desire to protect sources and methods, but said they were “highly credible.”
The United States and its partners would not view such referendums or attempts to annex Ukrainian territory as legitimate, he said.