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Moscow is moving forward with its plan to annex the Ukrainian region of Kherson by carrying out a “rigged” election intended to manipulate local support for joining the Russia Federation, according to United Kingdom officials.
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If Russia carries out a referendum election in Kherson, which borders Russian-annexed Crimea, “it will almost certainly manipulate the results to show a clear majority in favour of leaving Ukraine,” the UK Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update Saturday.
Russian forces took the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson in early March, but so far have not committed the atrocities against civilians like in other areas of Ukraine, according to the Associated Press. Locals suspected they had been spared because Russia has a special plan to stage a sham referendum to transform the territory into the “People’s Republic of Kherson” like the pro-Russian breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in April addressed residents of occupied Kherson about Russia’s plan for an orchestrated referendum. He warned them to safeguard their personal data from attempts to falsify votes. “This is a reality. Be careful,” he said.
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The Russian-imposed military-civilian administration in Kherson announced they will ask Russia to include Kherson in the Russian Federation, according to the UK Ministry of Defense.
“A central part of Russia’s original invasion plan was highly likely to use rigged referendums to place the majority of Ukraine’s regions under long-term pro-Russian authority,” the UK intelligence update states.
“The fact that Russia has only succeeded in imposing a pro-Russian local leadership in Kherson highlights the failure of Russia’s invasion to make progress towards its political objectives in Ukraine.”
Russian troops have occupied City Hall in Kherson, taking down the Ukrainian flag. Russians replaced the mayor with their own appointee last month.
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Still, citizens in Kherson are likely to continue to demonstrate their opposition to Russian occupation, according to the UK Ministry of Defense.
The faux election tactic has been used before. In 2014, a disputed referendum in Crimea amid the Russian annexation was widely believed to be falsified, with results showing nearly 97% of voters supported joining Russia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.