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1 May, 2019 12:03

Russia extends fast track to citizenship offer to more Ukrainians in escalating passport row

Russia extends fast track to citizenship offer to more Ukrainians in escalating passport row

More Ukrainian citizens will be eligible to apply for Russian citizenship under a fast-track procedure starting Wednesday. Moscow and Kiev have been verbally sparring over the issue for a week now.

Last Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree, which allowed people living in rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine to apply for Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure. The move was justified by humanitarian reasons, Moscow explained, but Kiev denounced it as an act of aggression. The situation even ignited a verbal duel through the media between Putin and Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Russian leader upped the ante by saying the same fast-track option may be offered to all Ukrainian citizens and now seems to have partially delivered on the promise by signing a new decree, which made more Ukrainian citizens eligible for the program.

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The new decree applies to people, who were born or lived in Crimea before March 2014, when the former Ukrainian region rejoined Russia, regardless of them currently holding Ukrainian citizenship or no citizenship at all. The same goes for Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons, who used to live in the rebel-held parts of Ukraine but have since went to Russia to live there as refugees or temporary residents. Their immediate family members, including spouses, are covered as well.

The same offer was extended to victims of Joseph Stalin’s deportation of Crimean Tatars, direct descendants of those people and their family members. Citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria, who were born in Soviet Russia, as well as their family members, are now eligible too.

The fast-track procedure skips some restrictions that normally apply to people wishing to become Russian citizens, like the need to live in Russia for a certain time or prove they have a legitimate source of income. It requires processed applications to take no longer than three months. The decree however states that individuals with diseases that pose a threat to public health or those with known links to terrorist organizations may be rejected.

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Zelensky, who won last month’s presidential election in Ukraine in a landslide, was among the most vocal Ukrainian critics of Russia’s decision to make it easier for some Ukrainians to get Russian citizenship. He mocked the idea that a holder of the Ukrainian passport may be tempted to get a Russian one, branding Russia as a dictatorship harassing its own citizens. He said Ukraine will be instead giving its citizenship to Russians persecuted by the Kremlin.

Putin parried by implying that if both countries would be giving passports to the other party’s citizens, it would end up with all Russian and Ukrainians having effectively the same citizenship. The Russian president approving this idea, said he always considered Russians and Ukrainians to be part of the same people.

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