When Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in late February, the Russian president vowed that his forces would not occupy the country. But with the invasion reaching its 100th day, On Friday, Moscow seemed increasingly unwilling to relinquish the territories it had captured in the war.
The ruble is now the official currency of the southern Kherson region, along with the Ukrainian hryvnia. Residents there and in the Russian-controlled parts of the Zaporizhzhya region are given urgent Russian passports. Administrations installed by the Kremlin in both regions have spoken of plans to become part of Russia.
Leaders of the Moscow-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, where the majority of the population speaks Russian, have expressed similar intentions. Putin recognized the breakaway republics set up by separatists as independent two days before launching the invasion, and fierce fighting has been raging in the east for weeks as Russia seeks to “liberate” all of Donbass.
The Kremlin has been largely silent about its plans for cities, towns and villages It was bombed, surrounded and eventually captured. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was up to people living in the captured areas to decide their status.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week that enemy forces now control nearly 20% of the country’s territory. Before the war, Russia controlled 7%, including Crimea and parts of Donbass.
But in a video message marking the first 100 days of the war, Zelensky made it clear that Ukraine would not surrender easily.
We have defended Ukraine for 100 days already. “Victory will be ours,” he said.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said he believed “there should be a negotiated settlement” to end the war. Asked if Ukraine should give up territory in exchange for peace, the president said, “It’s their land” and “I’m not going to tell them what they should and shouldn’t do.”
At first, at least, annexation of more territory from Ukraine was not thought to be the main objective of the invasion. It was widely believed that the Kremlin intended to install a pro-Moscow government in Kyiv that would prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and moving away from Russian influence.
But now, Moscow is unlikely to give up its military gains, according to political analysts.
“Of course (Russia) intends to stay,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. For Russia, “it is a pity to abandon what was occupied, even if it was not part of the original plan.”
Early in the war, Russian forces captured much of Kherson and neighboring Zaporizhia, took control of most of Ukraine’s coast of the Azov Sea and secured a partial land corridor to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. They completed the capture last month with the capture of the port of Mariupol. After a three-month siege.
The people of Kherson and Melitopol took to the streets in protest of the occupation, confronted by Russian soldiers in the squares. Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia may hold a referendum in Kherson To declare the region an independent state.
Petro Kupernik, 31, an NGO activist who fled Kherson with his wife, said Russian security forces are cracking down on pro-Ukrainian activists.
“Hundreds of pro-Ukrainian activists, including my friends, are being held in the basements of the security services,” Kaepernick said by phone. “Those who actively express their position are being kidnapped, tortured, threatened and forced out of the area.”
Kaepernick said Russian forces are keeping people in a “media vacuum,” where Ukrainian websites are no longer available.
His claims cannot be independently verified.
But some in the captured areas of Ukraine welcomed the Russian takeover.
“I wanted to live in Russia since I was young, and now I realize that I don’t even have to move anywhere,” said 17-year-old Vadim Romanova from Mariupol.
In Russian-occupied cities in southern Ukraine, pro-Kremlin people have replaced mayors and other local leaders who have disappeared in what Ukrainian officials and media have described as kidnappings. Russian flags were raised, and Russian state radio stations that promoted the Kremlin’s version of the invasion replaced Ukrainian television channels.
The Russian ruble was introduced as the second official currency in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions – at least in the Russian-controlled parts – and pro-Russian administrations began offering a “one-time social payment” of 10,000 rubles (about $163) to local residents.
An office of the Russian Migration Services has been opened in Melitopol, receiving applications for Russian citizenship from residents of the captured southern regions through a fast-track procedure. The measure was first implemented in 2019 in the rebel-held areas of Donbas, where more than 700,000 people received Russian passports.
Senior Russian officials began a tour of the regions, to introduce the prospects for the integration of regions in Russia. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khosnolin visited Kherson and Zaporizhia in mid-May and indicated that they could become part of our “Russian family”.
Andrei Turchak, a senior official of the ruling United Russia party in the Kremlin, stated more frankly at a meeting with residents of Kherson: “Russia is here forever.”
Soon, members of the loyalist administrations of the Kremlin in both regions announced that the regions would seek to integrate into Russia. While it remains unclear when or whether it will happen, Russia appears to be digging in.
Oleg Kryuchkov, an official in Russia-annexed Crimea, said this week that the two southern regions had switched to Russian ISPs. State media published footage of people queuing to get Russian SIM cards for their mobile phones. Kryuchkov also said that both regions switch to the Russian country code, +7, from Ukrainian +380.
Senior Russian legislator Leonid Slutsky, a member of the Russian delegation to the stalled peace talks with Ukraine, said that referendums on joining Russia could take place in the Donbass, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions as early as July.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov was evasive when asked Friday if Russian authorities were planning to hold elections in those regions, saying that would depend on the course of the Russian offensive.
Tatiana Stanovaya, founder and CEO of R.Politik, an independent think tank on Russian politics, said she believes Putin does not want to rush to referendums and risk being condemned as a hoax.
“He wants the referendum to be real, so that the West can see that Russia was really right, and people want to live with Russia,” Stanovaya said.
Ukrainian experts say it will not be easy for the Kremlin to garner real support in southern Ukraine.
Volodymyr Fesenko, of the Penta Center think-tank in Kyiv, said most residents of southern regions identify as Ukrainians much more strongly than people in regions close to Russia or led by Moscow-backed separatists over the past eight years. Years.
Follow all the Associated Press news on the war in Ukraine at https://apnews/hub/russia-ukraine.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”