Last week, the so-called "DPR" interior ministry released some curious stats, claiming 15,800 Russian passports have been issued to residents of the "republic". In total, 36,695 applications have been submitted. This information draws attention to one of the many instruments of the hybrid war Russia has been waging against Ukraine, of which many seem to have forgotten.
I'll refresh your memory. On April 24, Vladimir Putin signed a decree on a simplified naturalization of the occupied Donbas residents. Earlier, in February of 2018, he signed a decree on recognition in Russia of "DPR" and "LPR" self-styled "passports", making Russia the first and still the only country that recognizes these IDs (however, they don't recognize - and, as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stated directly, are not going to recognize the "independence" of these entities). Shortly after the decree of April 24 was released, Putin extended it to be applied to all residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, that is, including the territory controlled by the legitimate Ukrainian government.
Interestingly, in parallel lines, Russian immigration authorities introduced tougher rules for the stay of Ukrainians with Ukrainian passports.
This was explained, of course, by "purely humanitarian considerations" (that's according to Putin). Interestingly, in parallel lines, Russian immigration authorities introduced tougher rules for the stay of Ukrainians with Ukrainian passports. As before, Ukrainians are allowed to stay in Russia without registration for 90 days. But now they have to spend the same period outside Russia after this term expires. Such measures were taken because the Ukrainian workers would leave Russia for just a couple of days, or even for a few hours, after their 90-day period expires, and then return again. From this year, such a trick won't work anymore.
But let's get back to Russian passports. To receive such a document, a Donetsk or Luhansk region resident has to submit a standard package of documents to the appropriate service center in Donetsk or Luhansk. If the decision is positive, they have to cross to the Russian territory to collect their passport.
Donetsk region's residents started obtaining Russian passports on June 14. On July 29, the "DPR" reported that 6,500 people had been granted Russian citizenship. The dynamic speaks for itself: 6,500 passports in the first 45 days and 9,300 in the next 45 days. It wasn't possible to establish how many Russian passports were issued to Luhansk region's residents, but in mid-August the Russian Migration Service reported about 60,000 applications received from "DPR" and "LPR". It can be assumed that the ratio of issued passports approximately corresponds to the ratio of applications submitted.
On the one hand, it seems that the number is insignificant. In the "DPR", the population id declared at 2.276 million and in the "LPR" – under 1.453 million. However, even the Russian version of Wikipedia indicates that these figures are estimated, based on official data from local councils from 2014 and therefore should be considered overstated.
On the other hand, this is not a small number. Moreover, in light of these dynamics, the number of Russian passport holders is increasing.
As already mentioned, this is an element of the hybrid war: the more "dual" citizens live in Donbas (and in Ukraine in general), the more opportunities Moscow will have to meddle in Ukraine's internal affairs under the pretext of "protecting compatriots".
I should mention that dual citizenship is forbidden in Ukraine – but unfortunately, there is still no mechanism for punishing violators. Therefore, two or even three passports have a lot of Ukrainian citizens (for example, for a long time quite calmly used two passports of the former head of the Ukrainian bureau RIA Novosti Kirill Vyshinsky, taken into custody on suspicion of treason and released to Russia within exchange of prisoners on September 7). In the West, many Ukrainian citizens have passports from the Czech Republic, Romania, and most often, Hungary, which provokes a constant tension between Kiev and Budapest. It is also the case that Ukrainian passports are kept by foreign nationals: as a rule, this concerns Transnistrian residents.
All this is a blatant violation of Ukrainian laws; however, in the case of Russia handing out its passports in Donbas, it is primarily a political threat. As already stated, this is an element of hybrid war: the more "dual" citizens live in Donbas (and in Ukraine in general), the more opportunities Moscow will have to meddle in Ukraine's internal affairs under the pretext of "protecting compatriots." Moreover, the fact that naturalization of Ukrainian nationals by Russia is not only ongoing but also gaining momentum is another piece of telling evidence that the Kremlin's assurances of their will to achieve peace in Donbas shouldn't be trusted. At a future meeting in Normandy format, President Zelensky should find the right moment to highlight this fact. For example, when his Russian vis-à-vis, in the presence of Francois Macron and Angela Merkel, will begin to assure everyone of his exceptionally peaceful and humane intentions.
However, this is not enough. Ukraine should finally take steps to fill with real content the constitutional requirement of a single citizenship: to prescribe a procedure for punishment for violation of this norm. The Constitution expressly forbids depriving Ukrainians of their citizenship, but other options are on the table. Besides, as the last resort move, the Constitution could be amended.
Whatever measures the Ukrainian authorities take, now that full control is in the hands of a single party and, what's important, for the first time in the recent history, the government enjoys the confidence of more than 70% of citizens, it is the right moment for a possibly unpopular but urgently required solution for the future state.