VIENNA (Reuters) - The United States accused Russia on Thursday of planning to short-circuit Ukrainian democracy by forcing the government from power and dismantling local authorities.
"We have information that Russia's planning for its further invasion of Ukraine includes a forced capitulation of Ukraine's democratically elected government, including dissolving all local municipal governments in Ukraine," U.S. Ambassador Michael Carpenter said in an address to the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperating in Europe (OSCE).
"New governance structures were to be set up in 'liberated' territories under Russian control," he added in the speech posted online.
Without providing evidence, he said Russian officials and pro-Moscow rebels were developing a new government and new constitution. Planning included "a moratorium disallowing legitimate Ukrainian leaders and those supporting Ukraine's legitimate government from any leadership positions".
He said the Kremlin may be preparing "sham referenda" in areas of southern and eastern Ukraine it has seized since its invasion began on Feb. 24 in an attempt to legitimize its military action and assert control over these areas.
Russia says its "special military operation" is designed to demilitarise its neighbour and remove fascists from power.
Last week a Russian general said Moscow wanted to take full control over southern Ukraine, despite previous assertions that it had no territorial ambitions.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)