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Anti-Russian sentiment is growing in Russia. occupied territories throughout Ukraine and led to the killing of a Russian-appointed official who was planted in a car bomb this week, British intelligence said on Wednesday.
The Moscow-appointed mayor of Veliky Burluk, a small town in northern Ukraine located in the Kharkiv region, was allegedly targeted and killed by Ukrainian saboteurs on Monday.
Kharkov, bordering Russia, was one of the strategic launch points used in the second wave of the Russian invasion earlier this year, after Moscow abandoned its attempts to take Kyiv.
Russian troops advanced southeast through Kharkiv into the Luhansk region and have since occupied the eastern part of the region.
“Anti-Russian sentiment in occupied Ukraine is leading to Russian and pro-Russian officials being targeted,” UK officials said in a Department of Defense intelligence report released Wednesday. “The persecution of officials is likely to intensify, exacerbating the already serious problems facing the Russian occupiers and potentially increasing pressure on the already reduced military and security forces.”
The car bomb came the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a program that will speed up the acquisition of Russian citizenship for Ukrainians.
Residents of Donetsk and Luhansk have been able to apply for Russian passports since 2019. Approximately 18 percent of the population, in an area where Russian supporters lived on the eve of the war, received passports from Moscow.
Russia extended the program to residents of the southern Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, but it is not clear how many residents of these bitterly disputed areas have voluntarily applied for Russian passports.
From the very beginning of the invasion, there were reports that Russian troops forcibly confiscated Ukrainian passports and identity cards.
“Russia continues to seek to undermine the legitimacy of the Ukrainian state and to strengthen its own governance and administrative control over the occupied parts of Ukraine,” a spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense said in response to the program.
Last week, Putin declared victory over the Luhansk region, and British intelligence on Wednesday warned that Russian forces would now focus their efforts on taking small towns such as Seversk and Dolyna.
Officials said it was part of Russia’s strategy as they move west through the Donbas from Luhansk towards cities in the region like Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
Ukraine has said it is planning a massive counter-offensive involving up to 1 million troops.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.