The move, which has been reported by United States intelligence, is being seen as a way for Vladimir Putin’s forces to cement control of much of the country’s east, as Russian advances continue to stutter.
How are the Russians planning to annex Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk?
According to US intelligence, the Kremlin is set to echo the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and claim the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Furthermore, Russia is also expected to annex the southern city of Kherson, with Ukrainian forces continuing to fight to retain control of their territory.
Prior to the invasion Moscow recognised the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent of Kyiv on 24th February, with Russian forces sent into the regions for “peacekeeping” purposes. It is thought they will do the same in Kherson.
The Ministry of Defence has stated that Russia is attempting to secure control of Kherson by enforcing the use of the Rouble, and seeking to install a puppet local government.
Where is Kherson?
Kherson, is the administrative centre of Kherson Oblast and an important economic centre and an important port on the Black Sea. After Crimea was annexed in 2014, Kherson housed the office of the Ukrainian President’s representative in the region. The city has a population of just under 250,000. According to the mayor, Around 40% of the population have fled in the two months since this key, strategic city was taken by Russia.
Russian flags hang above Kherson's government buildings. Ukrainian TV has been mostly cut off, changed to Russian news.
Where is Donetsk?
Donetsk is the largest city in the Donbas region with almost 1 million people living there. Located in the east of Ukraine, the area is in the disputed Donetsk Oblast with Russia claiming the territory. A major economic centre for Ukraine, the city is the five largest in Ukraine and is known for its steel and chemical industries. The city was formerly known as Stalin and Stalino.
Where is Luhansk?
Luhansk is another city once again in the east of the country located in the Donas region and was captured in 2014 as a breakaway state by the Luhansk People’s Republic who declared independence from Ukraine. The Luhansk People’s Republic have said previously that they may hold a referendum to join Russia in the future, despite being part of the territory of Ukraine. The state was recognised by Russia prior to their invasion with troops being sent in.
Russia ‘to stage fraudulent referendum’
A senior U.S. official has said that the move to annex much of the eastern regions is “highly credible” intelligence with the suggestion being that Russia will probably stage fraudulent referendums in mid-May.
The intelligence suggests that those remaining Donetsk, Luhansk will express support for leaving Ukraine and becoming part of Russia. Such a move would then allow Russia to install leaders in the area that are loyal to Vladimir Putin and Moscow. It is believed the Russians would recognise the southern city of Kherson as an independent republic. Neither move would be recognised by the United States or its allies.
Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the planned annexations are a “veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy branding them “straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook”
He added that prior successes in predicting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine give the current predictions more credence adding: “Unfortunately, we have been more right than wrong in exposing what we believe may be coming next.”