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Russia speeds up passport process for eastern Ukraine

April 24, 2019

The new decree makes it easier for people living in separatist-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine to obtain Russian citizenship. Ukraine's president-elect has called for more international sanctions over the move.

People pass under a Russian flag in front of the occupied administration building in Donetsk, Ukraine
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Pilipey

Ukrainian politicians expressed outrage on Wednesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to speed up citizenship applications for people living in areas currently controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

According to the Kremlin, the decree affects permanent residents living in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and would shorten the amount of time needed to examine the documents necessary to obtain a Russian passport.

The Ukrainian government was swift to condemn the move, with some politicians saying that the timing was aimed at destabilizing the country as it transitions from one president to a new one.

Putin defended the decree, saying it was "purely a humanitarian issue" and that it was not meant to create problems for the new Ukrainian administration.

Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations said he would ask the UN Security Council to halt Russia from enacting the decree.

First test for new president

Ukraine's president-elect, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, called for more international sanctions against Russia over the decree.

"This is another clear confirmation for the world of Russia's real role as an aggressor state, waging war against Ukraine," his office said in a statement, adding that it does not bring [them] closer to the main goal of stopping the war.

Zelenskiy, a comedian who won a landslide victory in Sunday's presidential election, said that he wanted a peaceful resolution to the conflict raging in eastern Ukraine during his campaign.

Outgoing President Petro Poroshenko also slammed the Russian decree, calling it "yet another unprecedented act of Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs." He accused Moscow of undermining the peace process.

The Ukrainian government also urged residents not to apply for Russian passports.

"Russia has deprived you of today and is now grabbing at your future," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin wrote on Twitter.

According to UN estimates, around 13,000 people have been killed since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. The conflict has pitted Ukrainian troops against pro-Russia separatists, with Moscow denying reports that it is providing the rebels with material support.

Ukraine and most other countries in the world view Russia's annexation of Crimea as illegal.

rs/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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