Russia’s Defense Minister Urges Faster Weapons Deliveries, Suggesting Stockpiles Are Depleted

Residents waiting for buses in Russian-controlled Mariupol, Ukraine, in December. Russian counterintelligence operatives are restricting travel in occupied areas of Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials.Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

KYIV, Ukraine — As Ukrainian forces step up their assaults behind enemy lines ahead of an expected counteroffensive, Russia is imposing stricter measures on civilians in occupied areas of Ukraine, Ukrainian officials say.

Russian occupation authorities have “reinforced” counterintelligence units and are restricting travel between towns and villages, the Ukrainian military high command said on Tuesday, following efforts to Russify and punish dissent in areas of Ukraine under Russian control.

The moves come after the Kremlin last week decreed that anyone in occupied areas of Ukraine who did not accept a Russian passport could be relocated from their homes — an edict that has been sowing confusion and fear among Ukrainian residents, according to the Ukrainian military and local officials. On Monday, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner urged Ukrainians living under Russian occupation to get Russian passports for their own safety, calling it a matter of survival.

Russian security officers have started working in crowded public spaces in plain clothes to track down members of the Ukrainian resistance in occupied areas, according to the National Resistance Center, a Ukrainian government agency that coordinates and tracks activity in those areas.

The undercover officers will often initiate conversation, the agency said, “to find ‘disloyal’ citizens.” Those who “take the bait are forced to continue to collaborate with the Russian occupation regime,” the agency said.

It is virtually impossible to independently verify much of what happens in Russian-occupied territory because independent journalists, humanitarian groups and international observers are rarely granted access by the Russian authorities.

But the Kremlin has made no secret of its efforts to absorb the regions into Russia, announcing in September that it had annexed four provinces in the south and the east of Ukraine, a move widely condemned as illegal.

Ukrainian officials and international observers have said that last week’s Kremlin decree permitting the expulsion of residents from occupied regions if they do not obtain Russian citizenship is evidence of Russia’s efforts to undermine the very idea of Ukrainian statehood.

Ukrainian officials typically call on people who live in occupied territories to resist Russia in any way they can, but the advice on how to respond to the pressure to accept a Russian passport has been mixed.

While Ukraine’s human rights commissioner urged people to get Russian passports for their own safety, Iryna Vereschuk, a deputy prime minister, asked people not to take them.

Serhii Khlan, a deputy administrator of the Kherson Regional Council, told Ukrainian television late Monday that he was sorry to see that there was no clear position on what to do because of the “enormous” pressure on the local population. He said that people were worried that they would be considered Russian “collaborators” if they accepted passports.

The Ukrainian General Staff, which is responsible for the country’s overall military strategy, said “the violent abduction of pro-Ukrainian civilians” in occupied areas was continuing and that there were signs more civilians could be detained. “Russian occupants keep people in harsh, inhumane conditions, apply torture to them,” the General Staff said in a statement on Tuesday night.

The claims could not be independently verified, but a pattern of Russian abuses of civilians — including unlawful detentions, torture and executions — has been documented by international investigators and independent media outlets, including The New York Times.

In a reflection of the dangers facing Russian occupiers themselves, both Ukrainian and Russian officials reported an assassination attempt on the Kremlin-appointed deputy head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Tuesday.

Russia’s main domestic intelligence service said a bomb was planted near the house of the unnamed proxy official and he was injured. “The victim was taken to the hospital, and a criminal case was opened,” the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said in a statement reported by RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency.

Earlier, the exiled mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, reported that residents of the northern districts of the city heard the sounds of the explosion and celebrated the attack.

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