The White House teased possible retaliatory responses against Russia for the referendums that will likely lead to annexations in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory.
“We are prepared to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia along with our allies and partners in response to these actions if they move forward with annexation," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday, the same day four Russian-occupied territories began their referendums to determine whether they'd join the Russian Federation.
The referendums are taking place in the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and in Russian-held parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south. If each vote goes in favor of joining Russia, which is essentially a foregone conclusion, more than 5 million people would "become Russian citizens," according to TASS, Russian state media.
The White House will “never” recognize any territory Russia annexes from Ukraine as legitimate parts of Russia, Jean-Pierre added.
The G-7 leaders released a statement saying they “strongly condemn the sham referenda that Russia attempts to use to create a phony pretext for changing the status of Ukrainian sovereign territory,” adding that the votes this week “have no legal effect or legitimacy, as demonstrated by Russia’s hasty methods of organization, which in no way respect democratic norms, and its blatant intimidation of local populations.”
Russia will view an attack on one of these "annexed" territories as an attack against them, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, per TASS.
"These referenda in areas that have been forcibly put under Russia’s temporary control in no way represent a legitimate expression of the will of the Ukrainian people, who have consistently resisted Russian efforts to change borders by force." the leaders added. "We will never recognize these referenda which appear to be a step toward Russian annexation and we will never recognize a purported annexation if it occurs."
In a major speech earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization effort that would call up 300,000 reservists. These forces will primarily be reservists or retired service members, and the Pentagon believes it will “take time” for them to train, prepare, and equip the new forces for battle, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters on Thursday.
The call-up is one example demonstrating the military's manpower struggle, according to administration officials.
“It’s definitely a sign [Putin is] struggling and we know that. He has suffered tens of thousands [of] casualties,” National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said earlier this week. “He has terrible morale, unit cohesion on the battlefield, command and control has still not been solved. He’s got desertion problems, and he’s forcing the wounded back into the fight. So clearly, manpower is a problem for him.”