Russia reportedly wants to involve minors in referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine so it can hide a “catastrophic” lack of votes, the Ukrainian government’s security service said.
Ukraine’s Security Service (SSU) said in a new report on Thursday that it had intercepted documents detailing plans to allow minors to participate in “fake” Russian referendums in the partially Russian-occupied eastern region of Donetsk.
“Thus, the aggressors hope to expand the ‘electoral base’ of support for the Kremlin’s project to join part of eastern Ukraine to the aggressor country,” the report said, citing the alleged intercepted documents. .
The documents show that leaders of the Russian occupation administration in Donetsk plan to allow local residents aged 13 to 17 to vote in the referendum, the SSU said. It added that parents or guardians must accompany their children to vote.
News week was unable to independently verify the report and contacted the Kremlin for confirmation and comment.
Russian authorities have been discussing possible referendums in conquered areas of Ukraine for months, and four Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to vote this week on Tuesday.
In a speech on Wednesday announcing a partial mobilization to bolster his troops in the ongoing war against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin also pledged to support the referendums.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Western officials have harshly criticized the scheduled votes, stressing that they will not accept the results of such referendums as legitimate.
At a news conference on Tuesday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the votes will be “manipulated” and that Russia will use them “as a base to supposedly annex these areas, now or in the future.”
“Let me be clear: if this happens – and it is of course not a closed deal yet – but if this happens, the United States will never recognize the Russian clans [sic] – claims to supposedly annexed parts of Ukraine,” he said. “And we will never recognize this area as anything but part of Ukraine. We unequivocally reject the actions of Russia.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also denounced the plans for a referendum as a “further escalation” of the war.
Before the Donetsk referendum, Ukraine’s SSU report said that, in addition to allegedly including children, authorities are also trying to “inflate” voting results by involving families who are from the Donetsk region but have temporarily left the area for Russia.
Donetsk is home to a Russian-backed separatist state calling itself the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). While the locals may have been born in Ukraine, some may instead identify as part of this breakaway region, even though Ukraine does not recognize it as legitimate.