Russia is reportedly sending in its own PR experts and deploying thousands of “activists” to prepare bogus referendums in occupied Ukrainian territories by Sept. 11.
Ukraine’s Security Service on Tuesday detailed the tactics it says Moscow is using to simulate local support for a plan to join Russia—and they apparently involve tacky T-shirts, scripted appeals, and free food for anyone willing to play along.
The campaign is reportedly being led by the pro-Russian group “Donetsk Republic,” which is now expanding beyond occupied Donetsk and calling itself “Big Russia,” according to the SBU.
“There are already 1,000 ‘activists’ [from the group] who hold meetings every day with residents of the temporarily occupied territories,” the Security Service said in a statement.
“They are recruiting people by appealing to them to join the organization. They’ve already involved more than 200,000 local residents.”
Photos shared by Ukrainian intelligence show T-shirts featuring the “Z” and “V” symbols that have served as a rallying cry for Russia’s war against Ukraine since the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24. “For Big Russia,” and “Into Big Russia,” the T-shirts read.
More than a thousand Russian “volunteers” are said to have been recruited to help organize rallies and distribute pro-Kremlin propaganda, with plans to also make a big show of releasing pre-written appeals to local Russian-backed authorities that denounce Ukrainian leaders and complain of persecution of Russian speakers.
“To boost ‘electoral support,’ the invaders offer food packages, starter packs for Russian mobile phone operators, and propaganda newspapers,” the SBU said.
Russian PR experts are said to have already arrived and set up headquarters in a local shop called Foxtrot in Melitopol, in the Zaporizhia region, where a pro-referendum campaign is underway with help from a group calling itself “We’re Together With Russia,” according to Ukraine’s National Resistance Center. A similar campaign has also reportedly been launched in Berdyansk. Residents are reportedly offered money if they sign up to take part in pro-referendum rallies.
An extensive network of Russian “activists” urging referendums is said to be in the works in the Kherson, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and Dnipropetrovsk regions, the SBU said.
Russia’s scramble to orchestrate “referendums” throughout the seized Ukrainian territories is reportedly being overseen by Sergei Kiriyenko, the Russian presidential administration’s first deputy chief of staff who is widely seen as Vladimir Putin’s point man in Ukraine.
But he has help from the local Russian-backed authorities, such as Kirill Stremousov, the self-proclaimed deputy head of occupied Kherson, who vowed in a video posted to Telegram on Tuesday that “we will become part of the Russian Federation” after the referendum and any attempts by Ukraine to fight back will be seen as “an attack on the Russian Federation.”
While Russian-backed leaders promise residents a wonderful new life under Russian control, they would perhaps do well to take a look at how things are going in Mariupol, where Russian volunteers have been recruited to help restore the city after it was decimated by Russian forces.
Pyotr Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor, announced Tuesday that testing was done on drinking water that had been smuggled out of the city. He said the testing revealed the local authorities are providing residents with water “blended with fecal matter.”