Russia began issuing “fast-tracked” passports to residents of eastern Ukraine this week, in accordance with an order signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in April. Some sixty residents of Ukraine’s Donbas region crossed the Russian border to receive their passports in a ceremony on Friday.
The Russian Interior Ministry opened two Migration Service offices in the Rostov area in late April to fulfill Putin’s decree that “individuals permanently residing in certain areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions have the right to apply for Russian citizenship under a fast-track procedure.” Donetsk and Lugansk are the areas where separatists aligned with Russia have been fighting the Ukrainian military.
“Today is the first trip. Later, it is planned to deliver citizens to the territory of the Russian Federation almost every day according to the lists we are provided with,” a Migration Service official said.
The Russian government claimed this fast-track passport procedure was instituted “to protect human rights and freedoms,” but the European Union blasted it as “another attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia” that ran counter to the “spirit and objectives” of the 2015 Minsk Accords.
The Minsk Accords were a set of agreements between Ukraine and Russia that were supposed to end the civil war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed over 13,000 people. One goal of these agreements was to de-escalate the confrontation in Donbas by providing more autonomy for its residents while reinforcing Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The Ukrainian government in May invalidated Russian passports issued to Ukrainian citizens in Donetsk and Luhansk. Passports issued by Russian offices in the Rostov region were specifically outlawed by the edict.
The Ukrainians said sanctions would be leveled against Russian Federation officials who participated in the expedited-passport program, while Ukrainians who accept the illegal passports might be deprived of their pensions and social benefits.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman condemned the new Russian passports issued on Friday as a “flagrant violation of all rights and morals.”
“I emphasize that we will never recognize the citizenship issued by the aggressor country,” he said.
Pro-Russian activists in Luhansk celebrated “Russia Day” on Thursday by marching through the streets with a gigantic Russian passport. The oversized prop was eventually opened by its bearers to reveal the interior page was stamped with the date May 12, 2014 – the day separatists declared the establishment of their pro-Russian independent republic, much as Russia Day commemorates Russia’s formal separation from the Soviet Union in 1990.