US says Kremlin planning to annex Ukrainian territory; Ukraine forces eye assault on Russian-occupied Kherson: July 19 recap – USA TODAY

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Russian troops might make further territorial gains, but their pace is likely to be slow without a “significant operational pause” to reorganize, the British Defense Ministry said in its daily assessment of the war.
The Kremlin faces a dilemma between deploying reserves to the Donbas region or defending against Ukrainian counterattacks in the south Kherson sector, the assessment said.
“Russia has struggled to sustain effective offensive combat power since the start of the invasion,” the assessment said. “This problem is likely becoming increasingly acute.”
The “next moves” for Russia appear to be annexing areas they now occupy, the Biden administration warned Tuesday. The Kremlin appears to be working toward installing proxy officials and forcing citizens to apply for Russian citizenship, the U.S. said Tuesday. 
Latest developments:
►The Russian invasion has killed at least 353 children and injured another 676, the Ukraine government reported.
►Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shared some “great news” and promised details would be released soon.
The mayor of Enerhodar said at least nine Russian soldiers were injured and an unknown number of people died after an incident at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The incident renewed concerns about Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant after Russia’s unprecedented attack in March sparked fears of a “Fukushima-style meltdown.
►Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday it is the West’s fault that the flow of Russian natural gas to Europe has dwindled and warned that it could continue to decrease.
►Ukraine high jumper Andriy Protsenko won the bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships on Monday in Eugene, Oregon.
USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our Russia-Ukraine war channel to receive updates straight to your phone.
The Biden administration said on Tuesday that Russia is “laying the groundwork” to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory by installing proxy officials and forcing citizens to apply for Russian citizenship as fighting builds in south and eastern Ukraine.
John Kirby, the White House’s National Security Council coordinator, citing U.S. intelligence, said Russia was turning to an “annexation playbook” that mirrors Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
“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, vowing the administration would respond “severely and swiftly” with more sanctions on Russia.
Kirby identified Kherson, Donetsk, Zaporizhzia and Luhansk Oblast as the areas under threat. He said Russia has installed illegitimate, proxy officials in the areas, and predicted they will hold “sham referenda” on joining Russia. He said Russia will then use those phony results to justify annexation.   
“We know their next moves,” he said, adding that Russia is exploring the creation of Russian banks, establishing the Ruble as the default currency, and sabotaging citizens’ access to internet in parts of Ukraine.
In Kherson, he said Russia has taken control of broadcast towers, replaced telecommunications infrastructure, established loyalist security forces, forced citizens to apply for Russian citizenship and issued Russian passports.
“We just wanted to make very plain for the American people what we’re seeing and make it very plain to Mr. Putin that nobody’s fooled by it,” Kirby said.
– Joey Garrison and Rebecca Morin
Jill Biden and President Joe Biden greeted Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska with a large bouquet of flowers Tuesday ahead of a private meeting and a bilateral meeting with U.S. officials.
The first ladies “will discuss the United States’ continued support for the government of Ukraine and its people” before meeting with Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Isobel Coleman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, CNN reported.
Zelenska is expected to deliver remarks to Congress on Wednesday as she presses her husband’s campaign for more military support from the West. Zelenska met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken emphasized the U.S. commitment to support Ukraine and reiterated the U.S. resolve to helping the people of Ukraine recover and rebuild from the devastation.
“The secretary strongly condemned Russia’s brutal attacks, which continue to wound and kill innocent civilians and destroy homes, hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure,” Price said.
Military officials said “there remains a high level of threat” after Russian missiles struck multiple cities in eastern and southern Ukraine on Tuesday.
At least two civilians were killed and 15 more were wounded by Russian shelling across the country over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s presidential office said in a morning update.
Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said one person was killed and 10 wounded after Russian strikes blasted the city of Kramatorsk, and he urged the more than 150,000 residents to evacuate. Russian forces fired seven Kalibr cruise missiles overnight on the village of Bilenke, injuring six people, Serhiy Bratchuk, the speaker of the Odesa regional government, said on Ukrainian television.
After weeks of Russian gains, Ukraine troops have succeeded in stabilizing their position on battlefields across the war-battered nation, the commander of the armed forces says.
Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi said in a Telegram post that he told U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, “an important factor contributing to our retention of defensive lines and positions” was the arrival of U.S. High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. HIMARS are being used for targeted strikes on Russian control points, ammunition and fuel storage depots, Zaluzhnyi said.
“It is difficult, tense, but completely under control,” Zaluzhnyi said of the now almost 5-month-long war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin got strong support for the war in Ukraine from Iran in a meeting between the nations and Turkey in Tehran on Tuesday. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the West opposes an “independent and strong” Russia, and that if Putin hadn’t invaded Ukraine, the West “would have waged a war” anyway to return the Crimean Peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 back to Kyiv’s control.
Putin conferred with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the conflict in Syria, and he used the trip to discuss a U.N.-backed proposal to resume exports of Ukrainian grain to ease the global food crisis.
In recent weeks, Russian officials made multiple visits to an airfield in central Iran to review Tehran’s weapons-capable drones for possible use in Ukraine, the White House claims. 
U.S. claims that Russia is facing global isolation because of the war are “wishful thinking,” the Russian Embassy in the United States said in a statement. The Russian leadership is in constant contact with leaders of most countries, the statement said.
“Even in the West, they are increasingly talking about the lack of alternatives to dialogue with Russia in global problems solving,” the statement said.
The statement was issued following a State Department briefing in which spokesman Ned Price said that “regardless of what we might hear from the Kremlin, the fact is that Russia has been economically, politically, diplomatically, financially isolated from the rest of the world.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expanded the shakeup of his security services by suspending 28 more officials. Earlier this week Zelenskyy suspended his prosecutor general and his security services chief, saying their agencies harbored too many “collaborators and traitors.” 
“Different levels, different directions,” Zelenskyy said of the latest suspensions. “But the grounds are similar – unsatisfactory job performance.”
Contributing: The Associated Press


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