MOSCOW (NYTIMES) – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Monday (July 11) signed a decree offering a simplified path to Russian citizenship for all Ukrainians, an effort to broaden Moscow’s appeal and solidify its presence in the country.
Putin’s decision indicated that Russia might seek to establish permanent control of the Ukrainian territories currently occupied by Moscow’s forces, and that the Kremlin is also interested in extending its presence beyond them.
Since 2019, Russia has been offering a fast-track citizenship process to residents of the self-proclaimed breakaway republics in Ukraine’s east. In May, Russia extended that option to Ukrainians in the southeastern Kherson and Zaporizka regions, parts of which have been occupied by Moscow – along with other measures, like giving newborns automatic Russian citizenship.
The streamlined procedure allows Ukrainians to get Russian passports without having to pass a language exam and prove that they have enough funds to sustain themselves, as is required of other applicants. It also does away with the requirement to have resided in Russia for five years. All applications must be processed within three months, according to the decree.
More than 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country for Russia since Moscow’s invasion, according to an estimate by the United Nations.
In June, Russia’s internal affairs ministry told Tass, a Russian state news agency, that more than 800,000 residents of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions had obtained Russian citizenship under the procedure.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of forcibly deporting its citizens from occupied territories into Russia. In June, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia had illegally deported more than 200,000 children to its territory.
“The purpose of this criminal policy is not just to steal people, but to make those who are deported forget about Ukraine and unable to return,” Zelenskyy said.
Over the past decade, Russia has been using this so-called passportization policy in frozen-conflict areas of the former Soviet Union, including in Georgia and Moldova.
The process allows Russia to replenish its own population, which has been suffering from natural decline, with people who speak the language and have similar cultural backgrounds. It also provides Moscow with leverage against local governments if Russian passport holders live in areas that are not controlled by Moscow directly.