On April 24, 2019, Vladimir Putin signed a decree on simplifying the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for Ukrainian citizens living in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In accordance with this decree, Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons permanently residing in CADLR will be able to obtain a Russian passport in Rostov-on-Don within three months after the submission of the relevant application. The Kremlin justifies such actions by “humanitarian” needs of CADLR residents.
Following this scandalous decision, on May 1, 2019, Putin signed another decree simplifying the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship by certain categories of Ukrainian citizens. In particular, the list includes Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons who have been residing in Crimea until March 18, 2014 (date of the annexation of Crimea) and their family members, Ukrainian citizens who have a residence permit in Russia or a refugee certificate, as well as persons who have been deported from Crimea in 1944, and their relatives.
Causes of passportization
There may be several reasons why Putin has decided to “passport” the residents of CADLR.
First, Russia saw that none of the openly pro-Russian candidates had a chance to win the presidential election in Ukraine and ensure the reintegration of CADLR on conditions of Moscow. As a result, the Kremlin realized that the conflict is likely to last at least another electoral cycle. These circumstances force Russia to take on greater responsibility for the residents of CADLR.
Second, Russia may use the passport issue as a tool of pressure on the newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyi. Such a decision increases Putin’s bargaining power and political price of the response of Zelenskyi. On the one hand, if Zelenskyi accepts some of Putin’s actions, he will lose significant support of pro-Western electorate. On the other hand, Zelenskyi may lose support of pro-Russian citizens and business circles, if the new government fails to achieve peace in Donbas.
Third, Russia seeks to preserve the loyalty of CADLR residents. The population of these territories may be in a state of apathy caused by the fact that for certain reasons the Ukrainian authorities do not give them certain benefits available to other Ukrainian citizens (pensions, social protection), and Russia does not provide them with the promised protection. Following the decree of Putin on the recognition of documents of self-proclaimed republics in 2017, issuance of Russian passports may be considered as a continuation of the policy of legalization of the “DPR” and “LPR”, though without official recognition of these entities.
Fourth, Russia is looking for a partial response to demographic challenges. According to demographic forecasts, the population of Russia may decrease from the current 143 million to 130 million by 2030. At the same time, there is an unchanging tendency for the increase of proportion of the Muslim population and the reduction of Russian-speaking groups. As a result, Russia considers Donbas as a region that may help partially correct this demographic imbalance (according to official Russian data, about 3.5 million people live on the territory of CADLR).
The status of residents of CADLR who receive Russian passports
Ukrainian legislation recognizes a single citizenship, but does not prohibit dual citizenship. This means that Ukraine ignores the presence of other citizenship of Ukrainian citizens. Accordingly, a Ukrainian citizen residing in CADLR and having Russian citizenship retains all rights and obligations as a Ukrainian citizen.
Ukrainian legislation recognizes the voluntary acquisition of citizenship of another state as one of the grounds for the loss of Ukrainian citizenship. However, information about the voluntary nature of such acquisition can only be provided by a state of other citizenship. Accordingly, Ukraine is unlikely to receive reliable information from Russia on whether Ukrainian citizens have acquired Russian citizenship voluntarily.
Passportization of Crimea and CADLR are different
After the annexation of Crimea, Russia illegally spread Russian citizenship to Crimean residents. According to the position of Ukraine and the norms of international law, the acquisition of Russian citizenship by the inhabitants of Crimea was compulsory and cannot be the reason for the loss of Ukrainian citizenship. The fact of compulsory nature is quite easy to prove if the migration authorities in Crimea, illegally created by Russia, issued Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens.
In turn, citizens of Ukraine residing in CADLR will receive Russian passports from Russian migration authorities in Rostov-on-Don. Unlike the Crimean “institutions”, Rostov passport offices are being the legitimate migration authorities. Accordingly, there are reasons to suppose that the residents of CADLR who receive a Russian passport on the territory of Russia may be considered by the international community as being legally entitled to Ukrainian and Russian citizenship at the same time.
Risks for Ukraine
First, passportization of CADLR is another step to distance the residents of CADLR from Ukraine and complicate their reintegration into Ukrainian public and political space.
Second, in the event of an escalation of the conflict in Donbas, Russia may justify humanitarian intervention by protecting Russian citizens abroad (following the example of South Ossetia in 2008).
Third, the life of Ukrainian citizens residing in CADLR will not necessarily improve after obtaining a Russian passport. For example, in the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation stated that residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine who receive Russian citizenship under the simplified procedure “will be able to receive Russian old-age pension insurance, but only if they move to permanent residence in Russia”.
Fourth, passportization of CADLR raises the risk that Russia will start recruiting Donbas residents for the regular military service.