KEY POINTS

  • Russian PR specialists and political strategists were tasked with preparing for the "elections" and "referendum" in Melitopol, Ukraine
  • They allegedly plan to create a "We stand together with Russia" movement, with paid actors supporting a referendum
  • The "performance" is reportedly aimed at Russian citizens with the intent of reducing dissatisfaction with the war

Russian public relations specialists and political strategists have arrived in Melitopol, Ukraine, as collaborators are being sought in the occupied city to support future pro-Russian movements, Ukrainian authorities said.

These specialists and strategists are based in a Foxtrot appliance store captured by Russian forces, and they were tasked with preparing for the city's "referendum" and "elections," according to a statement from the National Resistance Centre (NRC), a program run by the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Their first goal is supposedly the creation of a "We stand together with Russia" movement, which will see paid background actors supporting a referendum, according to the NRC.

Referendums on joining Russia are expected to take place in occupied Ukrainian territories by September, Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the strategy.

The "performance" in Melitopol is aimed at Russian citizens with the intent of reducing the dissatisfaction with the war among the local population, according to the NRC.

A recruitment center for collaborators is allegedly operating in the occupied Ukrainian city of Berdiansk, the NRC stated.

According to the NRC, Russian "volunteers" are engaged in hiring background actors, while they themselves will take part as extras.

These volunteers will need to provide their passport data, and they will receive money as well as "humanitarian aid" for their participation, the NRC said.

"This should help them survive the food crisis that the Russians themselves created," the statement read.

Russia's plans to annex Ukrainian territories — an effort allegedly directed by Sergey Kiriyenko, the Russian presidential administration's first deputy chief of staff — are reportedly focused on the partially-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine's east, as well as the southern territories of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Both Melitopol and Berdiansk are located in Zaporizhzhia.

Officials are preparing to organize votes in areas currently controlled by the Russian military and any others troops are able to seize in the coming weeks, according to Bloomberg.

John Kirby, the spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, last week called Russia's move to annex Ukrainian territories via "sham" referendums "illegal and illegitimate."

Previous referendums in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk were marked by election fraud, pre-marked ballots and intimidation, Washington Post reported.

The Russian government, for its part, publicly denied that it is planning votes in occupied regions even as officials on the ground are working on them.

In Berdyansk and Melitopol, Moscow is laying the groundwork for a future with Russia
In Berdyansk and Melitopol, Moscow is laying the groundwork for a future with Russia AFP / Andrey BORODULIN
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