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Passport sparring: Putin ‘welcomes’ idea of giving UKRAINIAN citizenship to Russians

President Vladimir Putin said the suggestion by Ukraine’s president-elect to give Ukrainian citizenship to Russians “suffering from an authoritarian regime” is “a good thing,” which would only bring the kindred nations closer.

The Russian president and his soon-to-be Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky have been engaged in a sort of media duel after Russia last week offered a fast track to Russian citizenship to Ukrainians living in self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine. Moscow said the move was a humanitarian one and necessitated by Kiev’s failure to reconcile with its own citizens living in the east. But officials in Ukraine, including the president-elect, called it an act of aggression.

Amid the uproar from Kiev, Putin last Saturday suggested that the same simplified procedure may be extended to all Ukrainian citizens. Zelensky responded with a scolding Facebook post, in which he mocked the idea that a holder of a Ukrainian passport might be tempted with the Russian one.

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“We know what a Russian passport actually gives. A right to be arrested for a peaceful protest. A right not to have free and competitive elections. A right to know nothing about existence of natural human rights,” the emotional post said.

He added that Ukraine will “offer Ukrainian citizenship to members of all peoples suffering from authoritarian and corrupt regimes. First of all to Russians, who are suffering pretty much more than anyone else.”

When asked about the post Monday, Putin responded with a tongue-in-cheek approval.

“Did he say that? It sounds good,” Putin said. “It means we will probably come to an agreement because we [Russians and Ukrainians] have so much in common.”

He went further than that, saying he believed Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same people. “If we have a common citizenship, both the Ukrainians and the Russians will benefit from it. We will be stronger and more successful.”

He added that if Zelensky was so proud of the freedoms in his country and the benefits of Ukrainian citizenship, he should reinstate the citizenship of Mikhail Saakashvili. The former Georgian president traded the passport of his home country to that of Ukraine in 2014 – only to be later stripped of it by Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili’s deportation came after he became a fierce critic of Poroshenko’s policies, which gave the development a distinct tinge of political persecution.

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“He was stripped of his citizenship illegally and expelled from the country illegally. His violated rights should be reinstated,” Putin said. “So are the rights of some other Ukrainian citizens, who had to flee the country… due to the persecution of the incumbent regime in Kiev.”

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