Ukraine-Russia: Ruble to be imposed on occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson

Russia is to impose the Ruble on the occupied southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, as Moscow claimed a Ukrainian missile had struck the TV tower in the city.

The currency decision comes as the US mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (ISCE) warned it had intelligence that Russia planned “a forced capitulation” of Ukraine’s democratically elected government, including “dissolving all local municipal governments in Ukraine”.

Kyiv has already warned Russia could attempt to hold a referendum in the Kherson region, in a bid to create a self-declared pro-Russian breakaway region such as those in the Donbas. However, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Andrei Rudenko insisted this week he knew of no such proposal.

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Russian forces used tear gas and stun guns to disperse anti-Russian demonstrators in Kherson’s Freedom Square on Wednesday, according to the office of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General.

A man collects pictures from a school hit by Russian rockets in the southern Ukraine village of Zelenyi Hai between Kherson and Mykolaiv, earlier this month.

A video, circulating on social media, shows a mid-air explosion followed by a blast next to the Kherson TV tower. Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti said Ukraine had fired three missiles at the city, which has been under Russian occupation since the beginning of March. Two of the missiles had been shot down, the news agency said.

Other social media videos claimed the city council building in Kherson – where the Ukrainian flag was taken down earlier this week – had also been damaged by the shockwaves from the blast. Locals reported Russian flags being erected all over the town in recent days, where Moscow installed its own mayor on Tuesday, after having de facto occupied the town since the beginning of March.

Russian TV and radio had been broadcast in the city since occupation began in March. It is believed broadcasts were interrupted after the blast, but were soon restored.

Last week, a Russian senior military general, Major General Rustam Minnekayev, was reported to have said his country wants to take over “southern Ukraine” and open a land bridge into a pro-Russian breakaway republic in Moldova.

US Ambassador Michael Carpenter told the OSCE’s Permanent Council in Vienna on Thursday: “Plans for a new government and new constitution are being developed by Russian officials and so-called ‘separatists’. This planning includes a moratorium disallowing legitimate Ukrainian leaders and those supporting Ukraine’s legitimate government from any leadership positions.

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“This is straight out of Russia’s playbook, which has repeatedly exploited phony ‘electoral’ processes with attempts to impose so-called ‘new realities’, including holding sham referenda in an attempt to lend a semblance of legitimacy to subjugation. We saw this repeatedly in 2014, as the Kremlin orchestrated so-called referenda in the Ukrainian regions of Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk – each time with faked high percentages of public support.”

In 2014, a disputed referendum in Crimea amid the Russian annexation was widely believed to be falsified, with results showing nearly 97 per cent of voters supported joining Russia.

Mr Carpenter said Russia wanted to create “the Kherson People’s Republic” following a “sham referendum”.

He said: “Our Ukrainian colleagues have been warning that Russia may soon stage a sham referendum in Kherson, supposedly asking residents if they approved of the “independence” of an entity called “the Kherson People’s Republic.” Of course, no such entity exists outside of the Kremlin’s web of lies. And the international community must make clear that any such referendum will never be recognised as legitimate, just as the Ukrainian people have already made clear they will never support this Russian invasion.”

Russian forces had initially planned to enforce the ruble in Kherson in April, but is now to move to the Russian currency from 1 May. The city has reportedly not seen the brutality and destruction witnessed elsewhere in Ukraine, although atrocities have been reported in the surrounding regions. One 16-year-old girl has claimed she was raped by a Russian soldier, who told her that he would bring “20 more” men, if she did not agree to sleep with him. The Kherson authorities have claimed that more than 200 people have been abducted in the region.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy chairman of the pro-Russian “military-civil administration” of the region, said that the currency transition period will take up to four months, during which time both the ruble and hryvnia will circulate in the region.

Kherson is a strategically important city and the gateway to broader control of the south. From Kherson, Russia could launch a more powerful offensive against other southern cities, including Odesa and Krivy Rih.

The occupation of the Kherson region would also maintain Russia’s access to the North Crimean canal. After the annexation, Ukraine cut off water from the canal, which flows from the Dnieper River to Crimea and previously supplied 85 per cent of the peninsula’s needs.

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