EU and Kiev slam Russian passport offer
Ukraine has condemned the order signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin this week to simplify applications for passports for residents in areas of separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.
Applicants will have to pledge loyalty to Russia.
The decree states that some residents in areas of Donetsk and Luhansk under separatist control will have their applications considered in less than three months.
Around 13,000 people have died in the Russian-backed conflict despite the Minsk ceasefire signed in 2015.
European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the fact that the announcement came days after the presidential election in Ukraine “shows Russia’s intention to further destabilise Ukraine and to exacerbate the conflict”.
The move is an early test for the Ukrainian president-elect, Volodymyr Zelensky, who has pledged to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Zelensky said the new passport rules showed Russia was not interested in peace. The comic actor turned political novice called for the international community to threaten Russia with deeper sanctions. Defeated President Petro Poroshenko said Russia might attempt to seize the Donbass region.
“Russia, through this highly provocative action, is intensifying its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said the US State Department.
If the passport plans had been announced before Sunday’s presidential election, it could have potentially bolstered the chances of Poroshenko, the candidate Moscow least wanted to win.
During his election campaign, Zelensky said he wanted to “renew relations” with eastern Ukraine and initiate a “powerful information war to end the conflict”.
In response, Russia said it wanted Zelensky to show “sound judgement”, “honesty” and “pragmatism” so that relations could improve.
“We have no desire to create problems for the new Ukrainian leadership, but to tolerate a situation in which people living in the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk republic are generally deprived of any civil rights, this is already crossing the line from the point of view of human rights,” Putin announced.
“For many years already, about 10 years, Poland has been giving out passports, Hungary has also been doing so, to Hungarians, and Romania… so are Russians living in Ukraine worse than Poles, Hungarians?” Putin said during a visit to Vladivostok.
“They have family ties, mixed marriages and so on. I see nothing unusual in this”.
Donetsk remains a war zone. Picture credit: Wikimedia