Developments in “DNR” and “LNR”: 06 – 25 April 2019 (Newsletter 55)
Russia announces “passportization” for “DNR” and “LNR”
Separatist leaders reacted euphorically to the Kremlin’s April 24 decree that residents of the “People’s Republics” will be eligible to receive Russian passports on a fast-track basis. “We have long been waiting for this step and are immensely glad that the day has come. Thank You!”, “DNR” leader Denis Pushilin said in a statement. “LNR” leader Leonid Pasechnik tweeted that this was “an extraordinary moment, which has been long awaited by all of the LNR’s citizens.”
The decree states that residents of the “certain districts of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions” are entitled for a fast-track procedure when applying for Russian citizenship and that they should present passports issued by the DNR or “LNR”. Russia has recognized these passports since February 2017 (see Newsletter 19).
The Russian Interior Ministry later clarified that applicants won’t be required to travel to Russia. Instead they should submit documents to authorized personnel inside the “Republics” (i.e. Ukraine) while the applications would be processed within a three-months period in the neighbouring Russian Rostov Region. Russia also won’t require applicants to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship. Dual citizenship is illegal under Ukrainian law and Ukraine’s deputy Minister for the Occupied Territories Yuriy Hrymchak warned that those who take up the Russian offer could lose their Ukrainian citizenship.
Ukraine and her allies denounced the decision as illegal and counterproductive. The Foreign Ministry in Kiev said that the decree undermines the Minsk agreements and intends to destabilize Ukraine after the April 21 presidential election. It published a collection of western government criticism as a Twitter Moments series. The OSCE Chairmanship, currently held by Slovakia, warned that this was an “unilateral measure” by Russia that could undermine efforts for a peaceful resolution.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the decision was a “purely humanitarian” one, the step was widely seen as a reaction to Volodymyr Zelenskiy winning the presidential election on April 21. Russian media had actually reported back on April 16, when Zelenskiy’s clear victory had been predicted by polls, that the passport decree was ready to be signed right after the second round of voting.
Maria Snegovaya, a political scientist from Columbia University in New York, suggested that Russia was afraid of the showman’s popularity in Donbass (his best result, almost 90 per cent, was in the Luhansk region). Zelenskiy’s “victory in democratic elections creates competition for (the) Kremlin’s project in DPR/LPR. Distribution of passports (is an) PR-attempt to pull the region’s residents to (Russia’s) side”, Snegovaya wrote on Twitter.
Alexei Chesnakov, a political consultant closely linked to Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin adviser responsible for eastern Ukraine, openly warned that Russia would employ “more political tools” to protect the local population if Ukraine does not make concessions: “If Kiev really wants to restore a common constitutional order with Donetsk and Luhansk, it needs to demonstrate its readiness soon,” he said.
It was unclear what long-term consequences passportization will have for the “People’s Republics”. While many experts suggested that it will increase the brain drain to Russia and make it less attractive for young men to join local armed formations. Low wages and a bleak economic outlook have been blamed for a brain drain that is increasingly affecting key areas of the local economy (see Newsletter 53).
However, others argued that the decision might ultimately make reintegration with Ukraine easier by lowering barriers for the pro-Russian population to migrate to Russia. And while some warned that Moscow could use the presence of significant numbers of Russian citizens as a pretext for future military incursions, others pointed out that the Russian military presence was already sufficiently big and a Ukrainian military offensive was highly unlikely.
Much will depend on how fast and efficient the passportization will be implemented. Alexander Zhuchkovsky, a former Russian volunteer fighter and writer, suggested that Russian authorities could issue up to 30,000 passports per month. He added that priority would be given to fighters, security service staff and people working for the separatist de-facto authorities. […]