One million passports: Putin has weaponized citizenship in occupied eastern Ukraine

UkraineAlert by Peter Dickinson.

WED, JUN 17, 2020

Moscow plans to issue one million Russian passports to residents of Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine by the end of 2020, officials confirmed last week. By creating new demographic facts on the ground, the Kremlin hopes to alter the geopolitical balance in the region and derail efforts to end the six-year undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine. Despite these grave consequences, the international community has yet to impose any additional sanctions on Russia. Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin is able to continue pursuing policies of passport imperialism in Ukraine with apparent impunity.

Speaking on June 9 in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, United Russia MP Viktor Vodolatsky confirmed that more than 180,000 Ukrainians had received Russian passports since the introduction of a new fast-track procedure a little over a year ago. According to Vodolatsky, a further 98,000 applications are currently being processed and up to 800,000 more passports are expected to be issued in the second half of the current year.

Plans for simplified passport distribution in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine were first unveiled in April 2019, just days after Volodymyr Zelenskyy has won the Ukrainian presidency via a landslide victory. Throughout the spring 2019 Ukrainian presidential election campaign, Zelenskyy had been markedly less confrontational towards Russia than his rival, the incumbent Petro Poroshenko. This had led to widespread speculation that Zelenskyy’s election could serve to break the deadlock in a peace process that had witnessed little concrete progress since the end of large-scale hostilities in early 2015.

This initial optimism was soon tempered by the publication of Putin’s presidential decree granting Ukrainians from the occupied east of the country the right to apply for Russian passports via a special streamlined procedure. “These actions are yet more confirmation for the world community of Russia’s true role as an aggressor state, which is waging a war against Ukraine,” commented Zelenskyy at the time. “Unfortunately, this decree does not bring us closer to the ultimate goal of a ceasefire.”

Emboldened by the lack of a robust international response to his initial decree, Putin then escalated his passport imperialism against Ukraine. The Russian leader issued a second decree on July 17, 2019 that extended the citizenship offer to all Ukrainians living in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts – the two eastern regions of Ukraine that are currently under partial Russian occupation.

This is far from the first time the Kremlin has employed passports as a foreign policy tool to project its influence across the former Soviet Union. The tactic was first seen in Moldova in the early 1990s. The distribution of Russian passports also helped cement Moscow’s grip on the two breakaway regions of Georgia prior to the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Meanwhile, Russian passports have played an important role in the Kremlin’s Crimean policy, both before and after the 2014 seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula.

Putin’s passport ploy in eastern Ukraine is as clear an indication as you could possibly wish for that Russia has no intention of allowing Ukraine to regain full control over the occupied regions. If the Kremlin’s current forecasts are accurate, there will be one million Russian citizens living in occupied eastern Ukraine by the end of 2020, representing at least a quarter of the entire population. This will transform the so-called separatist republics of eastern Ukraine into Russian passport protectorates. 

With Russian citizens representing a large percentage of the region’s overall population, Moscow will claim the legal right to intervene at will in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Such arguments bear little relation to the realities of international law. Nevertheless, they represent a far more convincing pretext for endless interference than the protestations about oppressed Russian-speakers that Moscow has relied upon since Russia’s military intervention began in 2014.

The war Russia unleashed six years ago is far from over and Moscow remains as committed as ever to limiting Ukraine’s independence. Putin’s passport imperialism is central to these ongoing efforts, offering the potential to entrench Russian influence in the country while fatally weakening Ukrainian sovereignty. If it is allowed to proceed unimpeded in occupied eastern Ukraine, the same strategy could then be expanded to additional regions throughout the country, allowing Russia to slowly but surely undermine the Ukrainian government’s ability to function. Sadly, there is nothing particularly far-fetched or fanciful about such nightmare scenarios. Indeed, the passport distribution phase is already underway in unoccupied parts of eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has framed its passport offensive as a purely humanitarian policy designed to ease the suffering of a population trapped in a conflict zone, but these claims are no more credible than the Kremlin’s attempts to portray its well-equipped proxy armies in eastern Ukraine as a ragtag collection of disgruntled miners and tractor drivers. In reality, the weaponization of Russian citizenship is a well-known element of the hybrid arsenal developed by the Kremlin since 1991 and deployed throughout the former USSR as Moscow has fought to retain its imperial influence.

Only an emphatic international response can now prevent the Kremlin from using the same passport tactics to consolidate control over occupied eastern Ukraine and destabilize the rest of the country indefinitely. The European Commission has already taken steps to prevent EU member states from recognizing passports issued via Putin’s April 24, 2019 decree. Further measures targeting the Kremlin are also necessary, including additional sanctions.

Russia is currently in the process of establishing passport protectorates in eastern Ukraine. It is doing so methodically and shamelessly, in front of the watching world. If such brazen aggression is allowed to go unpunished, it will lead to a further erosion of international security, with implications that will be felt far beyond the borders of Ukraine.

Peter Dickinson is the Editor of the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert Service.

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  1. Minsk 1 and 2 were negotiated from a position of strength: Russia’s. And both were negotiated in bad faith by frog and kraut scum whilst Russia was slaughtering Ukrainians en masse.
    Steinmeier and his rancid ‘formula’ was just another attempt by the putlerstanis, frogs and krauts ganging up to force a capitulation.
    The wording has always been skewed in the rodent’s favour. Because of this deliberate fudge, Russia can claim that elections must take place before withdrawal. Which is of course nonsense.
    The passports scam worked for them in Moldova and Georgia. When have any sanctions been imposed for those thefts?

    • Little Adolf Putin is just like another small demented dreamer that 100 years ago said,
      “Probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed; if you encounter steel, withdraw.”
      If the good guys would just show some steel, the earth could begin to heal.
      …yes I intended the rhyme, ;))…

  2. Steinheimer’s Minsk was toilet paper to begin with. The spineless asslickers in both the West and now Ukraine make it easy for the shirtless shortman to seize Donbas without having to fear any consequences.

    • Check out the podcast I recommended to Red, Mike when you get the chance? There is a way forward, but it will need someone to explain things to Trumpkov and even then, he still supports the rodent.
      Trump actually believed that Finland was part of Russia. You couldn’t make it up!
      According to just some of Bolton’s revelations:
      Trump agreed to ‘back off’ criminal probes as ‘personal favors’ to dictators;
      Told Chinese President Xi Jinping should go ahead with building camps the regime was constructing for Chinese Uighurs;
      Spent part of Osaka summit ‘pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win’ reelection buy buying U.S. crops’
      Believed Finland was part of Russia;
      Said invading Venezuala was ‘cool’ and said the nation was ‘really part of the United States’
      Made it a ‘high priority’ to get Mike Pompeo to hand a copy of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ to North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un;
      Did not know Great Britain was a nuclear power; and
      Defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi to distract attention from Ivanka Trump using personal email.

      • How do you support the rodent yet help arm Ukraine? Forget about verbiage for a second. Putin gets sanctions and Ukraine gets ships and javelins. You don’t see any irony in your assertions? Or you still think the Republicans are arming Ukraine? The military answers to the Executive Branch which is not the Legislative Branch nor the Judicial Branch. It seems pretty simple to me. Obama sent blankets, Hillary would have sent cookies and Trump sends sanctions and javelins.

        • We had this conversation before Redders. Aid to Ukraine is bi-partisan. Trump hates Ukraine and supports the demented opinion of his putler jackboot licker friend Giuiliani that it was in fact Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election.
          Also I need to remind you of Trumpkov’s notorious endorsement of the invasion of Crimea, in his interview with George Stephanopoulos.

            • I look at it this way Redders : blm/antifa/chaz/occupy (remember them?) are all hard left supporters of Barmy Bernie. Now he’s gone they’ll swing behind Biden because they know that the power will be with whatever hard left female he chooses as veep.
              The alt-right are a powerful group that see Trumpkov as their leader. ‘Alt-right’ is just code for putler jackboot-licker.
              The hard left and hard right meet in the middle of the horseshoe shape alluded to in that article I posted yesterday. So both of these evil, seemingly unrelated groups have a big thing in common: putler: who supports blm/antifa covertly and other hard leftists such as Assange, CorbLenin etc overtly.
              The rodent suports the alt-right openly, as they do him: very strongly indeed eg Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham, Jones, Bannon, Savage etc.
              Therefore Trump’s close links with the alt-right are incredibly damaging to Ukraine. He only just yesterday gave an exclusive interview to putler’s top shill: Michael Savage. It’s hard to think of anything worse for a US president to be doing.

              • Ok, so what did Trump say in the interview that you disagreed with? I read the transcript and didn’t see anything about Russia. Considering they are both Putler shills, how could they possibly forget to talk about their boss?

                • Almost nothing! I would have very few qualms about him if he a) hated putler and b) staunchly supported Ukraine.
                  Unlike Obama, he likes Britain and believes in the special relationship, as I do. I am pro-America Redders!
                  The conversation was short this time: about 15-20 mins and took place as if Russia, putler and Ukraine did not exist, for the first time to my knowledge of their chats.
                  The topics that were covered: blm, antifa, police, riots, covid, China etc, were not controversial to me at all.
                  In short, I could be a Trumpoid if he unequivocally supported Ukraine and condemned putler as ferociously as he condemns people I actually like; such as McCain, Rubio, Bolton, Mattis etc.

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