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Moscow is pushing ahead with its plan to annex Ukraine’s Kherson region by staging a “rigged” election designed to manipulate local support for joining the Russian Federation, British officials say.
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If Russia holds a referendum election in Kherson, which borders Russian-annexed Crimea, “it will almost certainly manipulate the results to show a clear majority in favor of leaving Ukraine,” the British Ministry of Defense said on Saturday. in an information update.
Russian forces took the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine in early March, but have so far not committed atrocities against civilians like in other parts of Ukraine, according to the ‘Associated Press. Residents suspected they were spared because Russia had a special plan to hold a mock referendum to turn the territory into the “People’s Republic of Kherson” like the pro-Russian breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine.
In April, President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed residents of occupied Kherson about Russia’s plan for an orchestrated referendum. He warned them to protect their personal data against attempts to tamper with votes. “It’s a reality. Be careful,” he said.
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The Russian-imposed civil-military administration in Kherson has announced that it will ask Russia to include Kherson in the Russian Federation, according to the British Ministry of Defence.
“A central part of Russia’s original invasion plan was very likely to use rigged referendums to place the majority of Ukrainian regions under long-term pro-Russian rule,” the British intelligence update said.
“The fact that Russia succeeded only in imposing a pro-Russian local leadership in Kherson highlights the failure of the Russian invasion to advance its political goals in Ukraine.”
Russian troops occupied Kherson City Hall, tearing down the Ukrainian flag. The Russians replaced the mayor with their own appointee last month.
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Yet the citizens of Kherson are likely to continue to demonstrate their opposition to the Russian occupation, according to the British Ministry of Defence.
The fake election tactic has been used before. In 2014, a disputed referendum in Crimea over Russian annexation was widely seen as rigged, with results showing nearly 97% of voters favoring joining Russia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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