Lat­est Rus­sian threat: Giv­ing pass­ports to Don­bas res­i­dents

Kyiv Post - - National - BY I LLIA PONOMARENK­O PONOMARENK­[email protected]

With Russia’s war on Ukraine in the Don­bas and its oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea re­cently en­ter­ing their sixth year, the Krem­lin is now pre­par­ing to in­flict an­other blow against Ukraine’s sovereignt­y.

On the af­ter­noon of April 24, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin signed a decree al­low­ing in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing in the Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied parts of eastern Ukraine to gain Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship through a sim­pli­fied pro­ce­dure.

In all, the decree would al­low more than 3 mil­lion Ukrainian cit­i­zens “per­ma­nently liv­ing in cer­tain ar­eas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine” to be el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for Rus­sian pass­ports, even though un­der Rus­sian law they or­di­nar­ily wouldn’t meet a num­ber of criteria for gaining Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship.

These criteria in­clude re­sid­ing in Russia for at least five years, hav­ing a res­i­dence per­mit, hav­ing a le­gal source of in­come, re­nounc­ing for­eign cit­i­zen­ship, and be­ing pro­fi­cient in the Rus­sian lan­guage.

In­stead, Don­bas res­i­dents wish­ing to gain Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship will be able to con­tact Russia’s In­te­rior Min­istry and file an ap­pli­ca­tion along with copies of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments is­sued by the Rus­sian­con­trolled au­thor­i­ties in the oc­cu­pied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Since Fe­bru­ary, Russia has of­fi­cially rec­og­nized the “pass­ports” is­sued by its oc­cu­pa­tion au­thor­i­ties in eastern Ukraine, al­though it has never diplo­mat­i­cally rec­og­nized the ar­eas as be­ing sep­a­rate from Ukraine.

Cit­i­zen­ship re­quests sub­mit­ted by res­i­dents of the Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied parts of Ukraine’s Don­bas will now be pro­cessed in a short­ened pe­riod of just three months, ac­cord­ing to the decree.

More­over, as the Rus­sian In­te­rior Min­istry clar­i­fied later in the day, Don­bas res­i­dents who want to get Rus­sian pass­ports will not even have to re­nounce their Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship — which means that they will still be en­ti­tled to en­joy so­cial ben­e­fits from Ukraine and visa-free travel in the Schen­gen Area of Europe.

The new reg­u­la­tion came into ef­fect im­me­di­ately af­ter its of­fi­cial pub­li­ca­tion.

Vladislav Surkov, a Rus­sian pres­i­den­tial aide who is said to be re­spon­si­ble for run­ning part of the Rus­sianoc­cu­pied Don­bas from the Krem­lin, called the move “the duty of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion to those speak­ing and think­ing in Rus­sian.”

Those liv­ing in the Rus­sianoc­cu­pied part of Don­bas “now find them­selves in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion be­cause of the re­pres­sive ac­tions of the Kyi­van regime,” Surkov told Russia’s state-con­trolled TASS news agency.

Surkov also falsely claimed that “Ukraine re­fuses to rec­og­nize them as its cit­i­zens by in­vok­ing a trade block­ade, not al­low­ing them to vote, and us­ing mil­i­tary force against them.”

Putin him­self claimed the move to be “of a purely hu­man­i­tar­ian na­ture” and com­pared it to Poland is­su­ing the Pole’s Card to eth­nic Poles (al­though this is not a passport and does not grant cit­i­zen­ship or res­i­dency rights), and to the ac­tions of Ro­ma­nia, which he claimed is­sues its pass­ports to eth­nic Ro­ma­ni­ans liv­ing in Ukraine too — al­though this is, in most cases, il­le­gal in Ukraine.

“Why should Rus­sians liv­ing in Ukraine be dif­fer­ent from Ro­ma­ni­ans, Poles, and Hun­gar­i­ans?” he said dur­ing his April 25 summit with North Ko­rean leader Kim Jong Un in Vladivosto­k.

Cause for fur­ther war?

Just sev­eral days be­fore that, on April 18, Russia dealt an­other blow to Ukraine by ban­ning ex­ports of oil, oil prod­ucts, coal, and pipes to the coun­try start­ing from June 1.

The abrupt new move to al­low is­su­ing Rus­sian pass­ports to Ukraini­ans in the Don­bas im­me­di­ately pro­voked a strong re­ac­tion in Ukraine and be­yond, with of­fi­cials voic­ing fears that there would be an es­ca­la­tion of Russia’s un­de­clared war on Ukraine.

Ukrainian For­eign Min­is­ter Pavlo Klimkin called the move “a con­tin­u­a­tion of ag­gres­sion and med­dling in our do­mes­tic affairs” and “the new ‘passport’ stage of (Russia’s) oc­cu­pa­tion of the Don­bas.”

In a video ad­dress to the na­tion, in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko said that the Krem­lin’s move was “an at­tempt to jus­tify and le­git­imize Russia’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in the oc­cu­pied parts of the Ukrainian Don­bas.”

He also called on Kyiv’s part­ners to strengthen sanc­tions against the Krem­lin.

Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, Ukraine’s pres­i­dent-elect, is­sued a writ­ten state­ment, de­nounc­ing Russia as “an ag­gres­sor state wag­ing a war against Ukraine.”

Mean­while, the chair­man of Ukraine’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil, Olek­sandr Turchynov, gave a graver as­sess­ment.

By is­su­ing its pass­ports in the Don­bas, Russia was lay­ing the le­gal ground­work that would en­able it to more eas­ily de­ploy its armed forces there, he said.

“It has to do with the fact that Rus­sian leg­is­la­tion al­lows for the de­ploy­ment of its armed forces to pro­tect Rus­sian cit­i­zens over­seas,” the of­fi­cial said on April 24.

“There can be only one an­swer to that: am­pli­fy­ing our de­fen­sive po­ten­tial and an ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­na­tional re­ac­tion re­gard­ing the Krem­lin’s criminal acts — along with grow­ing sanc­tions pressure on the ag­gres­sor state.”

Borys Babin, former pres­i­den­tial en­voy to Crimea, com­pared the move to Russia’s ear­lier strat­egy of is­su­ing its pass­ports to res­i­dents of the Ge­or­gian re­gion of Abk­hazia in the early 2000s. Dur­ing the 2008 war with Ge­or­gia, this was used by the Krem­lin as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for its mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in the re­gion and its sub­se­quent oc­cu­pa­tion and for­mal recog­ni­tion of the in­de­pen­dence of Abk­hazia and South Os­se­tia.

“Russia has launched the Abk­hazian sce­nario in Ukraine’s east,” the ex­pert wrote on his Facebook page on April 21. “Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship for the res­i­dents of the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries is the first for­mal stage. When the ag­gres­sor state will rec­og­nize the in­de­pen­dence of the ‘peo­ple’s re­publics’ (mean­ing the ar­eas of the Don­bas un­der Rus­sianoc­cu­pa­tion) is an open ques­tion.”

He also called for break­ing all diplo­matic ties with Russia.

The U. S., the U.K. and the Eu­ro­pean Union have all sup­ported Kyiv, is­su­ing strong state­ments of con­dem­na­tion against the Krem­lin’s move. They la­beled it an­other at­tack on Ukraine’s sovereignt­y. And late on April 25, Ukraine ap­pealed to the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil over the mat­ter.

Process launched

Putin’s decree did not come as a com­plete sur­prise.

As far back as April 17, the Rus­sian news­pa­per Kommersant re­ported the Krem­lin’s in­ten­tion to start is­su­ing Rus­sian pass­ports to res­i­dents of the oc­cu­pied Don­bas af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Ukraine.

Cit­ing sources in the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, the news­pa­per also re­ported that all nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture for ac­cept­ing cit­i­zen­ship ap­pli­ca­tions had al­ready been de­ployed in Rus­sian re­gions bor­der­ing Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, par­tic­u­larly in the cities of Shakhty and Novoshakht­insk in Russia’s neigh­bor­ing Ros­tov Oblast.

Just a day af­ter the decree’s pub­li­ca­tion, Rus­sian-oc­cu­pa­tion au­thor­i­ties in Donetsk re­ported that a “sim­pli­fied pro­ce­dure” for cross­ing the bor­der with Russia would be launched on May 3.

More­over, ac­cord­ing to the head of the Rus­sian-oc­cu­pa­tion au­thor­i­ties in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, those who want to ap­ply for Rus­sian pass­ports will be trans­ported to Rus­sian ter­ri­tory “in a cen­tral­ized way.”

Ac­cord­ing to Pavlo Lysyan­skiy, the Verkhovna Rada om­buds­man for Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the whole process of of­fer­ing Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship to res­i­dents of the Rus­sianoc­cu­pied parts of Ukraine has a much longer his­tory.

“It’s all pre­dictable, they’ve pre­pared this,” the of­fi­cial said late on April 24.

“It’s a clear sce­nario: The Rus­sianoc­cu­pa­tion au­thor­i­ties work­ing in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are ready for this, and the decree is a sig­nal for them to start. They were mak­ing lists and in­vited peo­ple to sub­mit pre­lim­i­nary ap­pli­ca­tions to get (Rus­sian) pass­ports. These ap­pli­ca­tions were be­ing handed over to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the oc­cu­pa­tion administra­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Lysyan­skiy, this process of invit­ing lo­cal civil­ians to ac­quire Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship has been go­ing on for as long as two years. ■

Lo­cal civil­ians cross the Don­bas front­line into the Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied area at the en­try point of Stanyt­sia Luhan­ska close the oc­cu­pied city of Luhansk on Dec. 14, 2017. (Oleh Pe­tra­siuk)

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