Russia forms occupation government in Ukraine as war objectives change

Russia forms occupation government in Ukraine as war objectives change

Ukraine War: Kremlin officials remain confident their advance will accelerate in Ukraine. (File)

Nearly 10 weeks after the war and with its military making little profit in eastern Ukraine, Russia is focused on consolidating both military and political control over the territory it has taken. keep so far.

The Kremlin is installing occupation governments, ordering locals to use rubles for transactions and, according to three people involved in the efforts, planning hastily organized referendums in some areas to pave the way for outright annexation. These people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, risked punishment when discussing sensitive information. The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While a far cry from President Vladimir Putin’s original goal of overthrowing President Volodymyr Zelensky and establishing a pro-Russian regime in most of Ukraine, the latest efforts pose a new obstacle to negotiations. Peace talks had already stalled, in which Kyiv asked Russia to give up its stance. it has been going on since the invasion on 24 February. Zelensky’s army, supported by heavy weapons from the US and its allies, planned to push for the recapture of the territory.

Kremlin officials, in both the public and private sectors, remain confident that their advance will be accelerated and that Russian forces will at least conquer the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Moscow is also seeking to tighten its encirclement in the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, parts of which it already holds. That would leave about a fifth of Ukraine’s territory and much of its coast under Russian control – and create a land link with Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

In recent days, Russian officials have begun talking about public expectations of a major battlefield breakthrough on May 9, the World War II Victory Day holiday and military parade that have become The highlight of the Kremlin’s campaign to increase public support for the invasion.

However, to mark its ambitions for Donetsk and Luhansk, the Kremlin has shifted its responsibilities to the domestic political department from the department responsible for neighboring countries, according to people familiar with the situation. Figure. Sergei Kiriyenko, deputy chief of the bureau for domestic politics, visited the region late last month to outline his plans with officials there.

Russia’s recognition of breakaway republics in late February – including territories it does not control – paved the way for invasion.

While a US official said on Monday that votes on becoming part of Russia could be held in Donetsk and Luhansk as early as mid-May, people familiar with the plan were in Moscow. said they will probably be postponed until Russian forces extend control at least to the administrative boundaries of the regions. That could take weeks or months.

In the Kremlin’s view, the formal annexation of those two territories would make them an irrevocable part of Russia, leaving Ukraine permanently divided as other occupied regions turn to secession.

In the interim, Moscow is replacing local officials loyal to the government in Kyiv, rerouting the internet connections of the occupied regions through Russian servers and censors, and authorized the use of the ruble instead of the Ukrainian hryvnia. Kyiv has accused Russia of stealing 400,000 tons of grain from areas it controls.

Konstantin Malofeev, a wealthy Putin supporter who is assisting with funding the war effort, including funding an army of volunteers, said in an interview: “We will receive Ukraine by region”.

He acknowledged that the scale of military aid to Kyiv from the US and its allies was “much larger than anticipated.” Coupled with determined Ukrainian resistance, that means a fierce war “will drag on at a slow pace” for at least the next few months, he said.

Tycoon is punished

The US Justice Department publicized an indictment against Malofeev in April for violating sanctions for the first time imposed on him for his role in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. At the time, the Treasury said he was “one of the main sources of funding for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea.”

Since February 24, Russia has increased its control over Donetsk and Luhansk from 30% to 75% of the territory of the two regions of Ukraine before 2014, according to the research group. Janes defense is based in London, the attack is currently making relatively little progress. .

The Russian military is still fighting to complete its takeover of the port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian resistance is housed in a giant steel mill after a brutal weeks-long siege has leveled much of the city. rubble.

The Kremlin is preparing for a long campaign, according to people close to the leadership. With the United States and its allies increasingly imposing sanctions – on Russia’s oil and gas exports long considered too important to be touched – Moscow sees no reason. what to compromise. At the end of April, a Russian general said that Moscow’s goal now is to take over southern as well as eastern Ukraine, which would cut off the country’s sea lanes and main export routes. However, no senior official has publicly endorsed that ambition.

Privately, some Russian officials admit that the situation on the ground in the occupied territories is chaotic and they have not been able to assert control or impose order.

Kherson, where a military-civilian junta was appointed by Russia on April 26 by a former mayor of the main city in the region, will follow in the footsteps of Luhansk and Donetsk joining Russia, Malofeev said. At a minimum, the Kremlin should incorporate the entire southeastern part of Ukraine, he said, a piece of territory known as Novorossiya (New Russia) that Czarist Russia captured from the decaying Ottoman Empire in the 18th century.

Ambitious goal

Without ports and major export routes for wheat, coal and metals, “Ukraine would lose any economic independence,” Malofeev said.

He’s ramping up propaganda and distribution in a big way. His pro-Kremlin channel, Tsargrad, had reporters traveling throughout the newly occupied areas including Mariupol and Kherson, and he donated a billion rubles ($15 million) to buy generators, medicine enamels, minivans and other supplies. The Russian government is also preparing to finance the reconstruction, he said.

Alexander Borodai, a Russian lawmaker who briefly served as head of the Donetsk People’s Republic and led a force of “volunteers” set up by Malofeev to fight alongside the Russian army, says the state Ukraine should “be dismantled and disappeared from the face of the earth.”

At least for now, it is not clear whether Russia has the ability to fully control Donetsk and Luhansk. To the south, Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port, remains in Ukrainian hands. Kharkiv, the major city in the northeast, is also holding out.

Zelensky has called on Ukrainians in the occupied territories not to cooperate with the Russian authorities.

Even in Kherson, where there was little fighting in March, Russian forces did not have full authority. Ukrainian officials say Russia has set up filter camps aimed at men of military age or who have served in the country’s security forces.

The city has seen protests with participants holding Ukrainian flags. The Kyiv-loyal governor of the region, Hennadiy Laguta, in mid-April visited an area liberated by the Ukrainian army and oversaw the restoration of electricity, police patrols and medical services. Students in the Kherson region are continuing to study online in Ukrainian schools.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from an aggregated feed.)

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