According to U.S. authorities, Russia is preparing to organise sham referendums not just in Ukrainian areas under its occupation in the south, but also in sections of Kharkiv in the north-east, where Ukrainian troops have forced Russian troops to the region’s outskirts.

High-ranking American officials issued warnings recently that such manufactured referendums were likely, by which Russia would attempt to defend its invasion by falsifying the results so as to imply that Ukrainians backed annexation.

Vedant Patel, a deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, told reporters on Tuesday, August 30 that arrangements for the referendums were also being made in the Donbas region in the east and in Russian-controlled areas of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Regions in the south. However, he did not go into detail.

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Even after Moscow’s forces were rebuffed in their attempts to conquer Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and as the battle shifted south, it still remained a target of Russian attacks. According to local sources, a volley of missiles that fell close to the city centre on Tuesday, August 30, killed at least five people.

Russia has been attempting to impose its influence in the areas it controls, including by mandating the teaching of the Russian curriculum in schools, enticing citizens to apply for Russian passports to access state benefits, and redirecting mobile phone and internet connections through Russia’s censored networks.

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The referendums, which Mr. Patel predicted, might be held in coming weeks, are “part of Russia’s playbook to assault the sovereignty, identity, and history of Ukraine”.

He said preparations for the referendums are overseen by Sergei Kiriyenko, one of Vladimir Putin’s most prominent allies and his deputy chief of staff.

Kiriyenko handles domestic issues, and his recent close participation in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine is a signal of Moscow’s desire to annex the region.

Following Russia’s takeover of Crimea in the spring of 2014, it held a similar referendum in which voters were not offered the choice of remaining under the control of the central Ukrainian government in Kyiv. The referendum was held up as a veneer of legitimacy for Russia’s occupation although it was universally condemned as invalid by the world.

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