Putin expands fast-track Russian citizenship to all Ukraine

KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — As Russian missiles struck a key Ukrainian city, Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded a fast-track procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship to all Ukrainians on Monday, another effort to strengthen Moscow’s influence over war-torn Ukraine.

Until recently, only residents of Ukraine’s separatist eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as residents of the southern Zaporizhzhia and the Kherson regions, large parts of which are now under Russian control, were eligible to apply for the simplified passport procedure.

Ukrainian officials haven’t yet reacted to Putin’s announcement that he had signed a passport decree, which also applies for any stateless residents currently in Ukraine.

Between 2019, when the procedure was introduced for the residents of Donetsk and Luhansk, and this year, more than 720,000 people living in the rebel-held areas in the two regions — about 18% of the population – have received Russian passports.

In late May, three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the fast-track procedure was also offered to residents of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.

The Russian passport move appears to be part of Putin’s political influence strategy, which has also involved introduction of the Russian ruble in occupied territory in Ukraine and could eventually result in the annexation of more Ukrainian territory into the Russian Federation. Russia already annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014.

The Russian president set the stage for such moves even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, writing an essay last summer claiming that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and attempting to diminish the legitimacy of Ukraine as an independent nation. Reports have surfaced of Russian authorities confiscating Ukrainian passports from some citizens.

The passport announcement came hours after Russian shelling of Ukraine’s second-largest city on Monday killed at least six people and injured 31, prosecutors and local officials said. Russian troops launched three missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in an attack one official described as “absolute terrorism.”

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