President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree simplifying the process for residents of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.
The decree marks a further step towards “Russification” of the two regions, where Moscow’s war in Ukraine has enabled it to establish a continuous land bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
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Kyiv said the plan was a violation of international law and accused the Kremlin of “criminal” behaviour.
“The illegal issuing of passports … is a flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as norms and principles of international humanitarian law,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
Putin’s move extends a scheme available to residents of areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where Moscow has issued around 800,000 passports since 2019.
Applicants are not required to have lived in Russia and do not need to provide evidence of sufficient funds or pass a Russian language test.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the initiative was further evidence of Moscow’s “criminal” war goals, namely the integration of regions held by Moscow’s army “into Russia’s legal, political and economic field.”
Russia claimed full control of the Kherson region, north of Crimea, in mid-March, and holds parts of the Zaporizhzhia region to the northeast.
In Kherson, the Ukrainian governor has been ousted and the military-civilian administration said earlier this month that it planned to ask Putin to incorporate it into Russia by the end of 2022.
On Monday, authorities in Kherson introduced the rouble as the official currency alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia. On Thursday, officials installed by Moscow announced the same measure in parts of the region of Zaporizhzhia.
Ukraine has pledged to recapture all of its seized territory.
Meanwhile, fierce battles are being fought in Ukraine’s east, where Russia has focused its so-called “military operation”. It has been three months since Russia launched its invasion of neighbouring Ukraine on February 24 to “de-nazify” the country.
Ukraine’s western allies say the invasion is a war of aggression.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 6.5 million people have fled the war in Ukraine so far, with Poland hosting the largest number of Ukrainians.