'Russia Is Here Forever,' Top Putin Ally Tells Occupied Ukraine City

A top ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine controlled by the Russian military, and told citizens that Russia will be in the region "forever."

"I wanted to say once again, addressing the residents of the Kherson region, that Russia is here forever. There should be no doubt about that," Senator Andrei Turchak, United Russia's general council secretary, said Friday. "There will be no return to the past. We will live together, develop this rich area—rich in historical heritage, rich in our people who live here."

The Kherson region has been almost entirely under the control of Russian forces since the beginning of March. Ukrainian authorities and Western intelligence officials have long expressed concerns that Russia intends to hold a referendum on the creation of the Kherson People's Republic in the region. The Kremlin has denied the claims.

Turchak said the status of the region will "in any case be determined by residents." The main thing is to help the population and ensure "normal preparation for winter," he added.

Russian Senator Andrei Turchak, a Putin ally
During a visit to Russian-occupied Kherson, the United Russia Party's Political Council Head Andrei Turchak told citizens Russian forces will be in the region “forever.” Above, Turchak speaks during the Congress of The United Russia Party on December 4, 2021, in Moscow, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Britain's defense ministry said on Sunday that it is likely that the Kremlin aims to control Ukraine's Kherson in the long-term, given it has ruled out its return to Ukrainian control and rolled out a currency switch from the Ukrainian hryvnia to the Russian ruble.

A pro-Russian committee, which calls itself Kherson's "military-civil administration," announced last week that the region would begin using the Russian ruble from May 1. Transition to the currency will take up to four months, it said.

"Since seizing the southern city of Kherson in early March, Russia has sought to legitimise its control of the city and surrounding areas through installing a pro-Russian administration," the defense ministry said in a daily intelligence update on Twitter.

"These statements are likely indicative of Russian intent to exert strong political and economic influence in Kherson over the long term," the update said.

The ministry noted that enduring control over Kherson and its transport links will increase the Kremlin's ability to sustain its advance to the north and west, and improve the security of Russia's control over Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces have appointed a mayor in the city and gained control of the regional headquarters.

Newsweek reached out to Russian authorities and Ukraine's foreign ministry for comment.

The comments come as Ukrainian intelligence said it has reason to believe that Russia intends to declare a "full-fledged war" against Ukraine on May 9, Victory Day. The holiday commemorates the end of World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Friday that Ukraine will "will defend its freedom, its territory, its sovereignty, the lives of our families and our land," if Putin announces a mass mobilization.

"In any case, we will fight until complete victory over the occupier," Shmyhal said.