Vladimir Putin has issued a new order that makes it easier for people in separatist-controlled regions of Ukraine to obtain Russian citizenship. Residents in Donetsk and Luhansk, home to a few million people, will be entitled to Russian passports within just three months of applying if approved.
The move by Russia’s president today (April 24) is considered by some a precursor to annexation. Ukraine’s government has denounced the measure, with foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin calling it a “continuation of aggression and interference in our affairs.”
Moscow and Kiev have been stuck in a proxy war in Ukraine’s eastern regions ever since a separatist rebellion broke out in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea once held by Ukraine. Some 13,000 have died as a result of fighting over the past five years in Donetsk and Luhansk, which is under the de facto rule of pro-Russian separatists.
The Kremlin’s decree comes a day after Ukraine’s election commission declared Volodymyr Zelenskiy, an anti-establishment comedian who played the role of president on a hit TV series, the victor in presidential elections. Zelenskiy replaces Petro Poroshenko, an opponent of Moscow, and has called for a reboot of Western-brokered peace negotiations.
The US and most European states back Kiev in its conflict with pro-separatists. Moscow is anxious about Western influence in neighboring states, however, particularly after the George W. Bush administration pressed for but failed to expand NATO eastward to include Ukraine and Georgia.