breakaway referendum in the Russia-controlled Ukrainian city of Kherson would “almost certainly” be rigged, UK defence chiefs have warned.
The Kremlin-imposed military-civilian administration in the key southern city has announced it will request annexation of the Kherson region by Russia.
It came amid speculation among Ukrainian authorities that the puppet-government would hold a “referendum” attempting to declare the region independent.
But in its latest intelligece update on Saturday, the Ministry of Defence said the results of an accession referendum in Kherson would “almost certainly” be manipulated.
It said was Russia is “highly likely” to have plotted rigged referendums in its original invasion plans to place the majority of regions of Ukraine under long-term pro-Moscow control.
“The fact that Russia has only succeeded in imposing a pro-Russian local leadership in Kherson highlights the failure of Russia’s invasion to make progress towards its political objectives in Ukraine,” the MoD said.
“If Russia carries out an accession referendum in Kherson, it will almost certainly manipulate the results to show a clear majority in favour of leaving Ukraine,” defence chiefs added.
“Citizens in the Kherson region are likely to continue to demonstrate their opposition to Russian occupation.”
According to reports in Russia, one of Moscow’s most senior politicians visited the Kherson to “discuss social and healthcare needs”.
The state-controlled RIA agency on Saturday quoted Anna Kuznetsova, deputy head of Russia’s Duma or lower house of parliament, as saying: “We are here ready to provide all kinds of assistance.”
Kherson is the first region that Moscow is thought to be keen to annexe after Russia said in April it had gained full control of the region.
The Kremlin has said it was up to residents living in the region to decide whether they wanted to join Russia.
The port city provides part of the land link between the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, and Russian-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine.