Russia is planning to hold a “rigged” eferendum in the Kherson Oblast, UK defence chiefs have said.
The Kremlin-backed authorities in the key southern city have previously announced they will request to be annexed from Ukraine.
In its latest intelligence update on Sunday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Russia is “likely prioritising a pseudo-constitutional vote in an attempt to legitimise its control of the region”.
It also adds that it is “likely be prepared to rig voting to achieve an acceptable result”.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 3 July 2022— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) July 3, 2022
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/jomNx9Vafx
🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/DAGpWyCkyu
The city has been under Russian control since early March, while its former mayor, Ihor Kolykhayev, was detained last month after he refused to hold a referendum on annexing the city from Ukraine.
The MoD said: “On 28 June 2022, Ilhor Kolykhaiev, the elected mayor of Kherson city, was arrested, highly likely in an attempt to suppress to the occupation.
“However, widespread armed and peaceful resistance continues across occupied areas.
“Kherson is the region which has been brought under the new Russian occupation most comprehensively since February.
“Finding a constitutional solution for the occupation is likely a priority policy objective for Russia. It will highly likely be prepared to rig voting to achieve an acceptable result.”
At the onset of the invasion, the Russian government recognised the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, both of which held referendums which were not recognised by the majority of the international community.
It comes after Russian forces claimed victory in the battle for the last Ukrainian-held town in the Luhansk region.
The army posted videos on social media of a red “victory banner” being placed in the centre of Lysychansk at the Memorial of the Fallen on Sunday.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader whose soldiers are among those fighting there, said it was now a mopping-up operation, adding: “The trap has closed and Lysychansk is now completely surrounded by our united forces.”
Although he has previously proved an unreliable witness, his claim was echoed by pro-Russian separatist officials in the region.
“Today, the Luhansk popular militia and Russian forces occupied the last strategic heights, which allows us to confirm that Lysychansk is completely encircled,” said Andrei Marotchko, a spokesman for the separatist forces.
The Kyiv government denied that their troops were surrounded, however, and said the battle was ongoing.
“Fighting rages around Lysychansk. The city has not been encircled and is under control of the Ukrainian army,” Ruslan Muzytchuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, said.