After Russia’s troops were forced to retreat from Kyiv and its surroundings in March and April, Russia’s military forces have been regrouping and refocusing their efforts on Ukraine’s south and east. At the same time, the Kremlin is focusing its political plans on the same area, Michael Carpenter, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, told reporters in Washington.
Ambassador Carpenter said, “We’re now seeing that Russia’s playbook is being tailored for what it plans to do in the south and east of Ukraine.” He pointed to reports of the abductions of mayors and other local officials, as well as enforced disappearances of school directors, journalists, and local activists. There are also reported plans by the Kremlin to impose a Russian school curriculum and to force the local population to use the ruble. Russian forces have reportedly cut off internet and some cellular phone access in the south and east in order to disable the flow of reliable information.
“In addition,” said Ambassador Carpenter, “we believe the Kremlin may try to hold sham referenda to try to add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy. . .They organized these sham referenda, as you know, in Crimea, in Luhansk, in Donetsk and in other places.”
Just as the Kremlin engineered “these quasi statelets,” the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic,” Ambassador Carpenter said, the United States believes Russia may be trying to organize a “Kherson People’s Republic” in the Kherson oblast.
“The international community,” he said, “including the OSCE, where I work as ambassador, has been very clear that such referenda, such sham referenda, fabricated votes, will not be considered legitimate, nor will any attempts to annex additional Ukrainian territory.”
The OSCE and other multi-lateral fora, Ambassador Carpenter declared, will continue to expose Russia’s actions, isolate it diplomatically, work to get humanitarian assistance to the populations in need across Ukraine, and call for “an end to this monstrous war of choice that Russia has waged on Ukraine.”