Shortly after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations accused Russia of plans to dismantle Ukraine “and dissolve it from the world map entirely,” intelligence analysts said referendums on joining Russia are likely being prepared in occupied territories in the southern part of the country.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the U.N. Security Council Friday that the United States sees increasing signs that Russia is laying the groundwork to attempt to annex all of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
One of their tactics is installing “illegitimate proxy officials in Russian-held areas, with the goal of holding sham referenda or decree to join Russia,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “has even stated that this is Russia’s war aim,” she added.
Lavrov told an Arab summit in Cairo on Sunday that Moscow’s overarching goal in Ukraine is to free its people from its “unacceptable regime.”
He also suggested that Moscow’s war aims extend beyond the already occupied eastern and southern regions. “We will certainly help the Ukrainian people to get rid of the regime, which is absolutely anti-people and anti-historical,” Lavrov said.
Saturday, the UK Ministry of Defense suggested the wheels are turning on some of those plans. “Across the newly occupied territories in southern Ukraine, Russian-installed authorities are highly likely under increasing pressure from Moscow to consolidate their control over the region and prepare for referendums on joining Russia later in the year,” the ministry said in an intelligence update posted on Twitter. “Local authorities are likely coercing the population into disclosing personal details in order to compose voting registers.”
In other developments:
- The Ukrainian military said Saturday it had killed scores of Russian soldiers and destroyed two ammunition dumps in fighting in the Kherson region, the focus of Kyiv’s counter-offensive in the south and a key link in Moscow’s supply lines. It’s used Western-supplied long-range missile systems to badly damage three bridges across the Dnipro in recent weeks, cutting off Kherson city, the first town captured by Russia after the Feb. 24 invasion.
The first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, Yuri Sobolevsky, told residents to stay from away from Russian ammunition dumps. “The Ukrainian army is pouring it on against the Russians and this is only the beginning,” Sobolevsky wrote on the Telegram app.
The strikes potentially further isolate Russian forces west of the river from supplies in occupied Crimea and the east. The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia has resorted to pontoon bridges and a ferry system to compensate for destroyed bridges.
- Ukrainian and Russian officials continued to blame each other for the deaths of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Olenivka, a separatist-controlled area of the country’s east. Separatist authorities and Russian officials said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian POWs and wounded another 75, figures that could not be independently confirmed. The Kyiv Independent reported that Ukraine’s Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said that Russia hasn’t yet responded to his request about the victims’ identities and the retrieval of their bodies.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the deaths “a deliberate Russian war crime, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” in a video address late Friday. “There should be a clear legal recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Moscow opened an investigation into the attack, sending a team to the site from Russia’s main criminal investigation agency. The state RIA Novosti agency reported that fragments of U.S.-supplied precision High Mobility Artillery Rocket System rockets were found at the site.
The Institute for the Study of War tweeted that “available visual evidence appears to support Ukrainian claims more than those of the Russians.” Ukraine has appealed to the International Criminal Court over the prison attack.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has requested access to the prison “to determine the health and condition of all the people present on-site at the time of the attack.”
“Our priority right now is making sure that the wounded receive life-saving treatment and that the bodies of those who lost their lives are dealt with in a dignified manner,” the Red Cross said in a statement.
- Russia’s state-owned natural gas company Gazprom halted shipments to NATO-member Latvia Saturday, stating that Latvia broker the “terms for extraction of gas,” which was likely referring to the country’s refusal to pay for gas in rubles rather than other currencies. Gazprom has suspended shipments and played politics with gas supplies to other European Union countries, including suspending payments to the Netherlands, Poland and Bulgaria, because they would not pay in rubles.
- Russian rockets hit a school building in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, the country’s second-largest city, overnight, and another attack occurred about an hour later, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said Saturday. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The bus station in the city of Sloviansk also was hit, according to Mayor Vadim Lyakh. Sloviansk is near the front line of fighting in the Donetsk region. In southern Ukraine, one person was killed and six injured in shelling that hit a residential area in Mykolaiv, a significant port city, the region’s administration said Saturday.
With Post Wires