A top Kremlin official is leading Russia’s efforts to stage sham referenda in occupied parts of Ukraine, US State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Tuesday.
“Preparations for the sham referenda are being led by the first deputy head of Russia's presidential administration, Sergey Kiriyenko,” Patel said during a phone briefing.
“Kiriyenko is responsible for overseeing the Russia-held territories in advance of their attempted incorporation into Russia, which would be illegal if completed,” he said.
Kiriyenko was sanctioned in March 2021 and sanctioned again in February 2022 — two days before the Russian war in Ukraine began — in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as “independent.”
Patel reiterated that the US assesses that Russia could hold sham referenda in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and parts of Kharkiv. They “could take place in the coming weeks,” he said.
“We expect Russia to manipulate the results of these referenda in order to falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia,” he said.
“As part of the sham referenda, Russia will undoubtedly employ propaganda and disinformation campaigns, falsify voter turnout and exaggerate the percentage of those who supposedly voted in favor of joining Russia," he said. “We want to be clear any claim by the Kremlin that the Ukrainian people somehow want to join Russia is a lie. Polling shows that just 3% of Ukrainians say that they would like Ukraine to be a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union.”