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Russian authorities in the areas of Ukraine currently undertaking a pseudo-referendum are unlikely to include an option to remain in Ukraine on the ballot, an expert has warned.

Dr Colin Alexander, an expert in political communications at Nottingham Trent University, said: “The holding of referendums during hostilities is a strategy employed previously to legitimise Russia’s claim to a territory.

“In 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, the peninsula’s population were not asked a fair question as the territory continuing to be controlled by Kyiv was not an option on the ballot paper.

“I expect Moscow will do something similar in these eastern areas of Ukraine now.

“There will be no option for them to continue as part of Ukraine. This is not a fair vote as genuine optionality is not present.

“Given that Putin is calling up reservists, and Ukraine has taken back considerable amounts of territory in recent weeks, these latest developments could be interpreted as a significant anxiety on the part of the Russians.

“The future of these territories is now more uncertain as the tide of war perhaps begins to turn.

“In those regions, people who are favourable towards Kyiv will probably abstain from voting because the referendum lacks political integrity nor will it be recognised by international organisations as taking place under equitable and honest conditions.

“Thus, it will be mainly pro-Russians voting and will not be a fair reflection of the public opinion in those regions.”

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