"We expect Russia to manipulate the results of these referendums and falsely claim Ukrainians want to join Russia," says a senior Biden administration official and warns the "land grab" will not go unchallenged.
Moscow is all set to hold "sham" referendums in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine on joining Russia but its officials fear the low turnout could mar the entire exercise, a senior Biden administration official has said.
Our intelligence shows referendums will be held in Kherson, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and parts of Kharkiv and Russians are selecting candidates and administrators for these territories for the voting "that could take place as soon as in the coming weeks," the US official said on Friday.
Citing intelligence inputs, the official emphasised that Russian officials are concerned there will be poor turnout and the vote lacks legitimacy "likely because of the damage Russia has caused to Ukraine and widespread local opposition to the occupation."
"These officials are absolutely correct. We expect Russia to manipulate the results of these referendums and falsely claim Ukrainians want to join Russia," he said, adding that Russian "land grab" will not go unchallenged.
Washington will bring additional sanctions against Moscow and its "puppet officials" it has placed in the region in the event of referendums, he said.
New satellite images of Tuesday’s blast sites at a Russian air base in Crimea appear to debunk Moscow’s claims that the explosions were accidental.— TRT World (@trtworld) August 11, 2022
Ukraine has still not officially claimed responsibility for the strikes. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 pic.twitter.com/o9m7RAqYuZ
Referendum in Zaporizhzhia
Earlier this week, Moscow-backed authorities in the region of Zaporizhzhia said they will stage a referendum on joining Russia.
"I signed a decree... to start working on the issue of organising a referendum on the reunification of the Zaporizhzhia region with the Russian Federation," said Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russia-installed administration in the occupied part of the region.
The southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have been largely under Russia's control since the first weeks of Moscow's "military operation."
Both are now being amalgamated into Russia.
The Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions partially broke away from Kiev in 2014 and an eight-year war with the Ukrainian army ensued.
Russian troops seized full control of the Luhansk region this summer, and have said they aim to capture the entire Donetsk region.
In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine after staging a referendum there.
The vast majority of the global community did not recognise the outcome of that vote.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday if Moscow goes ahead with new referendums, there could be no talks with Kiev or its international allies.
"If the occupiers proceed along the path of pseudo-referendums they will close for themselves any chance of talks with Ukraine and the free world, which the Russian side will clearly need at some point," he warned.