The U.S. has assessed that Russian forces have developed a plan to "engineer a more pliant population" in regions of Ukraine, in part through the forcible relocation of civilians, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said Thursday.
In the Thursday speech, OSCE Ambassador Michael Carpenter said the U.S. believes Russian forces have "relocated at least several thousand Ukrainians for processing" in so-called "filtration camps" and have also moved "at least tens of thousands more to Russia or Russia-controlled territory."
Carpenter's description of the detention centers included an explanation of why they're called filtration camps.
"Numerous eyewitness accounts indicate that 'filtering out' entails beating and torturing individuals to determine whether they owe even the slightest allegiance to the Ukrainian state," he said. "According to these reports, those who are judged to have such an allegiance are transferred to the so-called 'Donetsk People's Republic,' where they face a dark fate."
Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk, two regions that share a border with Russia, have seen a, as troops tear through small towns en route to the strategic cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.
Carpenter quoted a survivor of the Russian processing who said that those who did not pass the "filtration" process were shot. And he referred to satellite images that showed some of these makeshift encampments in southeastern Ukraine.
"Victims describe an invasive and humiliating process of inspection at these centers," he said. "Russia's soldiers photograph victims from various angles, fingerprint and physically examine them for tattoos, inspect their cell phones and download their contacts and data onto devices, and record their biographic information in a variety of databases. Some victims report being interrogated by suspected Russian intelligence officials. In some cases, Russia's soldiers confiscated passports, identification documents, and cell phones altogether."
"As Russia well knows, the forced displacement or transfer of civilians would contravene international humanitarian law – but as we have seen, the Kremlin treats international law with total contempt," he added.
In his speech Thursday, Carpenter also decried Russia's "vicious and brutal military campaign" and said Russian forces are removing elected officials from local offices. He cited "very credible" reports that those officials are being "kidnapped, interned, disappeared, and sometimes killed."
"In their place, according to these reports, Russia is substituting its puppets and proxies, who, like their counterparts in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk "people's republics," operate in the style of a local mafia, relying on violence and terror," Carpenter said.
He said the U.S. is particularly concerned about Kherson, where Russia has reportedly installed a pro-Russia "puppet administration" and mandated the use of the Russian currency, the ruble. Carpenter also said Russia's actions have "increasingly indicated" that Russia may move to annex the region.
The news comes as Director of National Intelligence Avril Hainesthat the U.S. believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for "a prolonged conflict in Ukraine."
Haines said Putin likely believes Russia has a "greater ability and willingness to endure challenges" than Ukraine — but also said that if his belief does not match the Russian army's capabilities, there's a risk of a "more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory" in the conflict.
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