The occupation authorities of the Kherson Region have requested its accession to Russia before the end of the year without as much as a referendum. They explain their decision by the international community’s response to a similar scenario in Crimea. The region started preparing for integration with the occupying power two months ago, in particular, by restoring the railway connection with the peninsula. Earlier, Volodymyr Zelensky announced that the creation of a “People’s Republic of Kherson” would put an end to Ukraine’s negotiations with Russia.
«Not another Crimea»: How Kherson’s occupation authorities are preparing to accede to Russia
On May 6, Andrey Turchak, Secretary-General of United Russia (the ruling party), visited Kherson. In his address to the locals, he declared that “Russia is here to stay”:
“Together, we will develop this promising region with a rich historical legacy and outstanding human potential.”
On the following day, RIA Novosti published several statements by Kirill Stremousov, the newly-appointed “head” of the Kherson Region. He seconded Turchak, saying the region intended “to become part of the Russian Federation”, with the pace of its development “closely resembling Crimea”.
“There will be absolutely no coercion, but the lands that were historically Russian must retake their initial course in terms of culture and values. Our integration into the Russian Federation will be as tight as possible. All residents of the Kherson Region will be entitled to Russian citizenship and Russian passports.”
Earlier, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky announced that Ukraine would withdraw from any negotiations if referendums on the creation of new “people's republics” were held. On May 11, RIA Novosti published Stremousov's declaration of the Kherson Region’s intention to accede to Russia without any referendum whatsoever:
“A single order will be issued based on the appeal of the administration of the Kherson Region to the President of the Russian Federation; the region will also request the status of a full-fledged constituent.”
Stremousov justified his decision by the international community ignoring the “completely legitimate” Crimean referendum in 2014. In fact, it was anything but legitimate. According to Article 73 of the Ukrainian Constitution, any matters pertaining to the country’s territorial integrity must be considered through an all-Ukrainian referendum. Moreover, the ballot of the referendum Stremousov describes as “completely legitimate” did not offer an option for those who wanted Crimea to remain part of Ukraine.
Funding and transport. How Kherson has already been integrated into Russia
On May 11, TASS reported that the railway connection between Crimea and the Kherson Region has been restored, adding that its use was limited to military purposes. Railway service between the peninsula and Ukrainian territory has been resumed for the first time since 2014. Also according to TASS, Kherson's new “administration” is negotiating the opening of a Russian bank; its first branches may appear in the region before the end of May.
Considering that sanctions have cut Russia off from two main payment systems, Visa and MasterCard, it is safe to assume that the Kherson Region will switch to their Russian analog, Mir. As to banks, their list will be limited to those under sanctions. A possible candidate is RNCB (Russian National Commercial Bank), the go-to bank in Crimea, which was hit by EU and U.S. sanctions in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Kommersant wrote late in April that RNCB could merge with VTB and Otkritie banks. According to the newspaper, head of VTB Andrey Kostin submitted a request to this effect to the Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin and garnered support from President Vladimir Putin.
«Re-education» and the Russian World
In conversation with TASS, Stremousov informs that Crimean teachers will join Kherson's schools to align the educational process with Russian standards. In mid-April, Lilia Gumerova, Chair of Russia’s Federation Council Committee on Science, Education, and Culture, announced the State Duma’s intention to set up Russian language courses for Ukrainian children who had been evacuated to Russia.
To further Russianize Kherson, its new administration is also replacing coats of arms and renaming toponyms. Stremousov shares that the region will change its coat of arms back to the one it had in Imperial Russia: the first coat of arms of Kherson and Kherson Uyezd, introduced in October 1803. Furthermore, multiple state-owned Russian media announced on May 11 that a street in Kherson will be renamed after Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a controversial Russian politician known for his aggressive rhetoric and the founder of the LDPR party.