UK says Russia looking to hold referendums in newly occupied areas of S. Ukraine

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July 30 (Reuters) – Russian-installed authorities in newly occupied territories in southern Ukraine are under pressure and possibly preparing to hold referendums on joining Russia later this year, Britain military said on Saturday.

“Local authorities are likely coercing the population into disclosing personal details in order to compose voting registers,” the Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

Russia classifies these occupied areas as being under interim “civil-military administration”.

Ukraine has probably repelled small-scale Russian assaults from the long-established front line near Donetsk in the eastern region of Donbas, while in the Kherson area, Russia likely has established two pontoon bridges and a ferry system to compensate for nearby bridges damaged in recent strikes, the update said.

In other developments:

FIGHTING

* Russia and Ukraine traded blame for the deaths of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the Donetsk region. Moscow-backed separatists said Kyiv targeted the facility with U.S.-made rockets. Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian artillery had targeted the facility to hide the mistreatment of prisoners.

* Ukraine said at least five people had been killed and seven wounded in a Russian missile strike on the southeastern city of Mykolaiv, a river port just off the Black Sea.

* Russian-installed authorities in occupied territories in southern Ukraine may be preparing to hold referendums on joining Russia later this year and are “likely coercing the population into disclosing personal details in order to compose voting registers,” UK military intelligence said. 

* Ukraine’s military said it had killed scores of Russian soldiers and destroyed two ammunition dumps in the Kherson region, the focus of Kyiv’s counteroffensive in the south and a key link in Moscow’s supply lines. 

DIPLOMACY

* Blinken and Lavrov held the first call between the top U.S. and Russian diplomats since before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, to discuss a U.S.-proposed prisoner swap. 

* Blinken said the world expected Russia to fulfil its commitments under a deal with Ukraine to reopen grain and fertilizer exports. Lavrov said U.S. sanctions complicated the global food situation.

* Lavrov said Russia will meet the aims of its “special military operation” and that Western arms supplies to Kyiv were prolonging the conflict.

* The Kremlin said it does not see any change in the West’s willingness to make concessions over Ukraine in order to secure a ceasefire, TASS news agency reported. 

ECONOMY

* Ukraine is ready to start shipping grain from two Black Sea ports under a U.N.-brokered agreement but no date has been set for the first shipment, the Ukrainian infrastructure minister said. 

Russian serviceman keeps watch in front of a sign reading ‘I love Berdyansk’ in downtown of Berdyansk, Ukraine. EPA-EFE/SERGEI ILNITSKY

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