Putin’s Russian passport aggression against Ukraine fizzles in occupied Donbas
According to a study carried out by the Donetsk Information Institute (DII), the number of Ukrainians in occupied Donbas who have taken Russian citizenship is far lower than predicted by Moscow and its puppet ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ (DPR, LPR). The grandiose plans by Russia to issue 600-800 thousand Russian passports to Donbas residents by the end of 2020 appear to have fizzled, with the number of takers significantly lower, and estimated to be no more than 7% of the relevant population.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued his first decree on 24 April 2019, making it easier for residents of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘republics’ to get Russian citizenship. He claimed that this was ‘a humanitarian’ move, however the ongoing rumours that this was planned had been accompanied by comments about how successful such mass issue of passports had been in the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Novaya Gazeta journalist Pavel Kanygin noted at the time that Moscow was making its threat to the newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky quite clear. If his administration didn’t accept Moscow’s terms for taking back the so-called ‘republics’, they could end up with millions of Russian citizens whom Russia would then claim it was entitled ‘to protect’.
On 17 July 2019, Putin contradicted his own ‘humanitarian’ excuse by issuing a second decree, this time making it possible for all Ukrainians in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (Donbas) to receive Russian citizenship according to ‘simplified procedure’, even if they live on Ukrainian government controlled territory. Both moves were condemned by the international community, with the EU, for example, calling Russia’s actions “an encroachment on Ukraine’s sovereignty” and in breach of the Minsk Agreement. On 10 October 2019, the EU stated that it did not recognize Russian passports issued in occupied Donbas, and that they were issuing guidelines to member states on how to recognize such documents and not recognize them.
With respect to people living in the so-called ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ and in possession of these unrecognized formations’ ‘passports’, the situation with receiving Russian passports was made especially easy. In addition, on 17 April 2020, the Russian State Duma issued a law, cancelling state duty when taking on Russian citizenship for all residents of Donbas (i.e. the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts).
All of these moves are acts of aggression, taken in the full knowledge that Ukraine does not permit dual citizenship.
As of August 2020, 130 thousand people in ‘DPR’ are reported (by the unrecognized ‘republics’ themselves) to have received Russian citizenship, with the figure in ‘LPR’ – 124 thousand. As mentioned, the rate has slowed down enormously, as 200 thousand were issued by the end of 2019. DII notes that, at no more than 7% of the population of the occupied areas, this is 2-3 times lower than Russia was predicting.
More people have taken on ‘DPR’ passports’ (over 500 thousand) and ‘LPR passports’ (around 500 thousand), with this around 29% of the population. DII is seemingly referring to the receiving of these ‘passports’ in the last year, since overall, it says that only 50% of the population of non-government controlled Donbas have such ‘passports’. Since people are undoubtedly under pressure from the militants in these ‘republics’, that percentage is cheeringly low. The researchers also point out that receipt of other ‘republic’ or Russian citizenship does not necessarily reflect a person’s ideological position. At least in ‘DPR’, the militants are currently trying to eliminate the use of Ukrainian passports, and in all of occupied Donbas you can end up seized and imprisoned for pro-Ukrainian views. There can also be strictly practical reasons for taking on such passports, especially given the pandemic and the virtual impossibility of crossing into Ukrainian government-controlled territory.
There were very aggressive reactions from some quarters after Putin first simplified procedure for getting Russian citizenship, including calls to strip Donbas residents of their pensions if they took on Russian citizenship. In fact, however, the report notes that the Ukrainian government’s response has been ‘restrained’. Oleksiy Reznykov, Minister for the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territory, has said that nobody will be penalized for having taken Russian citizenship but that they will have to make a decision on which citizenship they want after de-occupation. This should undoubtedly be the case, but Ukraine’s legislators may need to become involved. Ukraine’s Constitution and Law on Citizenship clearly stipulate that there is no dual citizenship, however this is not something that is currently enforced, at least in most cases.
The study also points to failings from the Ukrainian authorities which are causing real problems after so many years of occupation. A law was passed back in 2018 on expediting administrative procedure for receiving Ukrainian birth certificates for babies born in occupied Donbas (as well as death certificates). This is still not working and it is estimated that over 60% of children born in occupied Donbas “do not legally exist as far as the Ukrainian state is concerned.”
The authors of the study make several important recommendations aimed at ensuring that people in ‘DPR/LPR’ receive adequate information explaining why Ukrainian citizenship is desirable and that they have full access to such documents, including birth certificates for the youngest Ukrainians born in occupied Donbas.