Currently, Kherson Oblast, which was occupied by Russian troops in the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion, is formally ruled by a handful of local collaborators. They exist only to create a media illusion of free will of the locals and cover the obvious fact that the Russian military and officials have full control of the occupied region.
Local residents had been actively protesting the occupation, so it took Russia more than a month to solidify its control of the region.
Now, Russian MP Mikhail Sheremet stated that the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine are going to “remain under the protectorate of Russia.”
One of the Russian plans for Kherson and occupied part of the adjacent parts of Zaporizhzhia Oblast is the so-called “state of Southern Rus,” according to a document titled “The Manifesto of the South-Russian congress,” leaked by Radio Liberty’s project Skhemy.
The document is written on behalf of a non-existent “South-Russian people’s congress” saying that it takes power in its hands and establishes “a new state of South Rus” in response to “terror and totalitarian imposition of the Nazi and Banderite ideology” by “the former State of Ukraine.”
“We build out state based on the understanding of historic and genetic kinship and unity of the threefold Russian people of Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians, brotherly friendship and mutual assistance,” the document reads, repeating the key narrative of the Soviet and Russian propaganda.
According to Skhemy:
- the document was created by top members of Putin’s United Russia party;
- the file creation date of the document is 16 April 2022;
- and in the same month it was circulated in Russia’s ruling circles.
The leaked document calls the Christian Orthodoxy a staple of its culture and recognizes “the Russian language as well as the Ukrainian parlance” as a “native and interethnic language.”
The document claims that the mission of “South Rus” is “protection of peace on our land and full uprooting of the Banderite Nazism,” and that after a “transitional period” it would “exist and act” based on the expressions of the people’s will via “the people’s referendum.”
Such illegal “people’s referenda” were part of the formal legalization of the Russian occupation of Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk. Thus, this scenario seems to be a transitional option to the “Kherson people’s republic” which is going to be proclaimed via a sham referendum with pre-planned results.
Since local activists and elected officials didn’t mention any signs of preparations to proclaim a “South Rus” in Kherson, this option was probably discarded. Moreover, even the very name of “South Rus” hasn’t been circulating as an option to designate a “people’s republic.”
The first mentions of Russia’s plans to create the so-called “Kherson people’s republic” emerged after the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk emerged back in early March.
The local Ukrainian officials from occupied Kherson reported that the occupation authorities were preparing a referendum to proclaim a “people’s republic”:
“The occupiers call around the deputies of the Kherson Regional Council on the question of whether we are ready to cooperate with them,” local councillor Serhiy Khlan (European Solidarity) wrote on Facebook on 12 March.
Throughout the rest of March and April, other Ukrainian officials and Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence elaborated on the possible referendum: Russia was printing promotional materials and ballot papers and planned to hold the sham referendum on 1 May, then advanced its date to 27 April, then postponed it to an unknown future date.
The subject of the planned sham vote also differs in various statements: it may also be a plebiscite to annex the region.
Russian MP Kazbek Taysaev during his visit to Russian-occupied Kherson on 7 May said that “a referendum on the accession of Kherson Oblast to Russia may be held in the near future.” Local collaborator, Kyrylo Stremousov, the so-called “deputy chairman of the military-civilian administration of the region,” also stated that Kherson Oblast will “strive” to join Russia.
Despite the harsh crackdown on pro-Ukrainian protests in the occupied territory, Khersoners rallied against the referendum and Russian occupation on one of the alleged dates of the sham vote:
Not only Russian MPs and Russian-installed local puppet authorities of Kherson mention the annexation of the region by Russia as an option under the Kremlin’s consideration.
On 2 May, US Ambassador to OSCE Michael Carpenter said that first Russia would try to annex what it calls the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”:
“The reports state that Russia plans to engineer referenda upon joining sometime in mid-May,” he said.
Also, according to Carpenter, the US believes that Russia is considering a similar plan in newly occupied south-Ukrainian Kherson Oblast:
“We think the reports are highly credible. Unfortunately we have been more right than wrong in exposing what we believe may be coming next, and so that is part of what we’re trying to do here. Such sham referenda – fabricated votes – will not be considered legitimate, nor will any attempts to annex additional Ukrainian territory,” he said.
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