BEIJING- Moscow is “thinking” of making it easier for all Ukrainians to obtain Russian citizenship, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday, after it earlier moved to grant passports in the country’s separatist east, causing uproar in Kiev.
“We are actually thinking about providing citizenship in a simplified order to all citizens of Ukraine, not only residents of the Lugansk and Donetsk republics,” Putin told the press during his visit to Beijing, referring to the unrecognised separatist republics governed by Moscow-backed rebels. This week Putin signed a decree allowing people living in the breakaway regions to receive a Russian passport within three months of applying for one.
The conflict between the Ukrainian government and breakaway rebels began after Moscow annexed Kiev’s Crimea peninsula in 2014. The war has claimed some 13,000 lives. The latest declaration sparked more condemnation in Kiev. “Russia wants further escalation and chaos in Ukraine and therefore continues to complicate the rules of the game,” Dmytro Kuleba, Kiev’s permanent representative to the Council of Europe, wrote on Twitter.
Putin’s decree came just days after Ukraine elected comedian Volodymyr Zelensky as president. The actor, due to be inaugurated by early June, called for more international sanctions against Russia in response.”This is another clear confirmation for the world of Russia’s real role as an aggressor state, waging war against Ukraine,” his press service said in a statement this week.
Zelensky — a political novice — has pledged to “reboot” peace talks with the separatists that also involve Russia and the West.
– Putin does not exclude talks –
Putin has not congratulated Zelensky on his election win but said he is ready to talk with a new Ukrainian leadership. On Satuday, he said he wanted to “understand” Zelensky’s position on the conflict. The Russian leader said Moscow will meet all “social responsibilities to our new citizens of Russia”.
After they receive a Russian passport, residents of eastern Ukraine will be eligible for “social payments, pensions and their increase, everything will be fulfilled,” he said. Such payments would not strain the Russian budget, he added, saying it is “theoretically possible” for residents in the separatist territories to receive both a Russian and Ukrainian pension.”These people still live under bullets and have shells explode sometimes in their gardens,” Putin said.
The EU condemned Moscow’s passport scheme, calling it a fresh assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and saying Russia sought to “destabilise” Ukraine after its presidential election. This week Kiev appealed to the UN Security Council to take action to oppose Putin’s decree. Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko told a council meeting that the decree was “simply illegal” and amounted to a “creeping annexation” of eastern Ukraine.