Russian President Vladimir Putin has extended the decree on simplified access to Russian citizenship for all residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. We should recall that this is the third such decree over the past period.
The first decree concerned the residents of the occupied Donbas territories who were offered to travel to Russia to obtain passports. This decree was not too dangerous for Ukraine, as Ukrainian citizens living in the said areas had to go to Russia and file documents there. And this, due to certain factors, does not happen so quickly.
In late April, another decree was issued, which is much more threatening to Ukraine. In particular, it simplified the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship by those citizens of Ukraine who have already left the occupied territories and reside in the territory of the Russian Federation in various temporary statuses. The number of such citizens, according to the most optimistic estimates, stands at about 600,000.
Russia has already created a network of public associations of pro-Russian Crimean Tatars. And now, no matter how unpleasant it may sound to the Mejlis, there is a rather powerful network of pro-Russian NGOs in Crimea
But this is not only about Donbas residents because the April's decree extends to persons who had previously lived in Crimea or were deported from there. This point, first of all, is aimed at Crimean Tatars living in Uzbekistan (according to various estimates, there are 20,000 to 150,000 of them there). In parallel with this decree, Russia has already created a network of public associations of pro-Russian Crimean Tatars. And now, no matter how unpleasant it may sound to the Mejlis, there is a rather powerful network of pro-Russian NGOs in Crimea. If, together with these organizations, several thousand people emerge who will say that "we returned to Crimea and we thank Putin for that", then this will be a big problem for Ukraine.
In general, Vladimir Putin's motives are quite understandable. They are aimed at depopulation of the liberated part of Donbas. The main objective is to provide Russian citizenship to the able-bodied population and to leave pensioners in the region. In such a scenario, the return of Donbas to Ukraine will be a headache, because without that able-bodied population, maintaining a huge number of people on social payments is quite problematic. This would mean serious problems for any Donbas recovery program.
The worst thing is that Russia's actions can hardly be influenced by international partners. The maximum that can be expected from Western countries is political condemnation, not real sanctions
And if economic recovery is restrained in the region, public discontent with the authorities will increase automatically. That is a banal trap for the Ukrainian authorities.
The worst thing is that Russia's actions can hardly be influenced by international partners. After all, determining the procedures for granting citizenship to certain categories of citizens is the right of each sovereign state. And formally, Russia is doing it on its own territory – they physically issue passports in Rostov region. Therefore, the maximum that can be expected from Western countries is political condemnation, not real sanctions.
Igar Tyshkevich is an expert of the "International and Internal Policy" program at Ukrainian Institute of the Future