Russia may be in Ukraine to stay after 100 days of war

The Kremlin has largely kept mum about its plans for the cities, towns and villages it has bombarded with missiles, encircled and finally captured.

Published: 03rd June 2022 04:15 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd June 2022 04:15 PM   |  A+A-

Firefighters try to put out a fire following an explosion in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo | AP)

Firefighters try to put out a fire following an explosion in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo | AP)

By Associated Press

When Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in late February, the Russian president vowed his forces would not occupy the neighbouring country. But as the invasion reached its 100th day Friday, Russia seemed increasingly unlikely to relinquish the territory it has taken in the war.

The ruble, now an official currency in the southern Kherson region, is set to replace the Ukrainian hryvnia. Residents there and in Russia-controlled parts of the Zaporizhzhia region are getting offered Russian passports. The Kremlin-installed administrations in both regions have talked about plans to become part of Russia.

The Moscow-backed leaders of separatist areas in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, which is mostly Russian-speaking, have shared similar intentions. Putin recognized the separatists’ self-proclaimed republics as independent states two days before launching the invasion. Fighting has intensified in Ukraine’s east as Russia seeks to “liberate” all of the Donbas.

The Kremlin has largely kept mum about its plans for the cities, towns and villages it has bombarded with missiles, encircled and finally captured. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was up to people living in seized areas to decide where and how they want to live.

Oleg Kryuchkov, an official in Russia-annexed Crimea, said this week that the two southern regions have switched to Russian internet providers; state media ran footage of people lining up to get Russian SIM cards for their cellphones. Kryuchkov also said that both regions were switching to the Russian country code, +7, from the Ukrainian +380.

Senior Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, a member of the Russian delegation in stalled peace talks with Ukraine, said that referendums on joining Russia could take place in the Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions as early as July.

Asked about such a scenario, Kremlin spokesman Peskov reiterated Thursday that it was up to the Ukrainian people to decide their futures but because of the continuing fighting, the conditions were not right for organizing annexation referendums.

Tatyana Stanovaya, founder and CEO of R.Politik, an independent think tank on Russian politics, thinks Putin doesn’t want to rush the referendums and run the risk of them being denounced as shams.

“He wants the referendum to be real, so that the West can see that, indeed, Russia was right, the people want to live with Russia,” Stanovaya said.

Ukrainian experts say it is not going to be easy for the Kremlin to rally genuine support in Ukraine’s south.

Volodymyr Fesenko, of the Kyiv-based Penta Center think tank, said residents of the southern regions identify as Ukrainians much more strongly than the people in areas closer to Russia or have been led by the Moscow-backed separatists for eight years.

“We already see that the occupying Russian administration is forced to tighten the screws and intensify repressions in the southern regions, since it cannot effectively control the protest sentiment,” Fesenko said. “And this causes a new wave of discontent among the population, which received nothing but Russian SIM cards and high Russian prices.”

Local residents echoed Fesenko’s sentiment.

Petro Kobernyk, 31, an activist with a nongovernmental organization who fled Kherson with his wife, said Russian repression began in the first days of the occupation.

“Hundreds of pro-Ukrainian activists, including my friends, are being held in the basements of security services,” Kobernyk said by phone. “Those who actively express their position are kidnapped and tortured, threatened and forced out of the region.”

His claims could not be independently verified. Russian forces keep people in an “an information vacuum,” with Ukrainian websites no longer available, Kobernyk said.

He described a bleak life in Kherson. With many stores shut down, the city “has turned into an endless market where people exchange goods for medicines and food.”



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