[lg policy] Russia Launches ‘Passportization’ in Occupied Ukrainian Donbas (Part Two) Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volum

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat May 4 14:38:53 EDT 2019

Russia Launches ‘Passportization’ in Occupied Ukrainian Donbas (Part
Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 64By: Vladimir Socor

May 2, 2019 05:59 PM Age: 2 days
(Source: TASS)

The Kremlin’s decree, offering Russian citizenship (“passportization”) to
residents of the Russian-occupied Donbas (eastern portions of Donetsk and
Luhansk provinces), is the latest in the series of legislative and economic
moves to wrest this territory from Ukraine in real terms, absorbing it *de
facto*—though not yet officially—into Russia.

Moscow has, from 2014 to date, entrenched its military and its security
services into this part of Ukraine, set up two “people’s republics,”
suffused them with Russia’s neo-nationalist (“Russian World”—“*Russkiy Mir*”)
propaganda, introduced Russia’s school curricula and textbooks, and
launched the ruble currency into circulation in this territory. The
language policy has practically excluded the Ukrainian language from the
public sphere. The two “republics” have “nationalized” Ukrainian public and
private property, including industrial plants and coal mines, placing them
under the central management of Moscow officials via Vneshtorgservis, a
Russian holding formally registered in the occupied Georgian territory of
South Ossetia. The Russian government has recognized the validity of
identity documents (“passports”) issued by the two Donbas “republics” to
their local residents (“citizens”) since 2017. And on April 24, 2019,
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree offered the real thing—Russia’s
own citizenship—to the Russian-occupied Donbas residents, *en masse*, under
a simplified procedure (see Part One in EDM
May 1).

The cumulative effects of these moves are heavily prejudicial to any peace
settlement, including one based on the Minsk ceasefire terms. The Kremlin
is building a *fait accompli* by assimilating this territory of Ukraine
into Russia, ahead of any peace settlement.

Russia’s passportization in the occupied areas of Donetsk-Luhansk blurs the
difference that Russia has until now affirmed to exist between Donbas and
Crimea, at least in legalistic (if not legal) terms. While insisting that
Crimea’s incorporation into Russia since 2014 is irreversible and
non-negotiable, Moscow has equally insisted that the Russian-controlled
Donbas be returned to Ukraine by negotiation, under certain Russian-imposed
conditions (the Minsk terms).

Moscow has based that distinction, in part, on the twin arguments that
Ukraine has obligations toward its citizens in the Russian-controlled
Donbas, while Russia is obligated to protect the safety and welfare of its
own citizens in Crimea. Indeed, Russia had started “passportizing” Crimea’s
residents (citizens of Ukraine) well before 2014, and completed that
operation quickly after the annexation. Crimea was, until now, the only
Russian-passportized part of Ukraine. Now, however, the Kremlin is starting
to equalize the Russian-controlled Donbas with Crimea in terms of
passportization and the ensuing “obligations” of Russia to its newly-made

Passportization in the Donetsk-Luhansk territory gives Russia a new pretext
for its military presence—namely, to “protect Russia’s citizens,” with a
potential for offensive military operations to “defend Russia’s citizens,”
as in the Georgia 2008 and Crimea 2014 scenarios.

On the propaganda level, the Kremlin suggests that the passportization
program is one that substantiates its Russian World idea. President Putin
announced, “We are thinking about giving our citizenship through the
simplified procedure to citizens of Ukraine generally” (Interfax, April
27). And he commented (again) that “Russians and Ukrainians are essentially
one people, with varying peculiarities in language and culture” (Rossiya 24
TV, Interfax, April 29). Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov (key actor on policy
toward Ukraine) asserted, “This [program] is Russia’s obligation to
Russian-speaking and Russian-thinking people” (TASS, April 24). Top
television propagandist Pyotr Tolstoy explained that passportization
represents “the future of the young generation of the Russian people who
live in this territory. Of course this is a signal not only for Donbas, but
for all those Ukrainians who regard themselves as part of our wider Russian
World” (Russian TV Channel One, April 28).

Putin and other Russian officials are pointing to Hungary and Romania, each
of which has granted its citizenship to Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarian and
ethnic Romanian citizens, respectively; as well as Poland, which has
granted the “Pole’s Card” (less than citizenship) to its kinsmen in
Ukraine. Equating these cases with Russia’s passportization, Putin
declared, “Russia will give its passports to Russians in Ukraine as well as
those Ukrainians who feel that their ties with Russia are unbreakable”
(TASS, April 25). Russia’s envoy to the United Nations, Vasily Nebeznya,
repeated Putin’s defense in the UN Security Council’s emergency session
that Ukraine had called to remonstrate against Russia (Interfax, April 25).
Putin’s defense does not acknowledge, however, that Russia’s
passportization is an aspect of its multi-dimensional assault on the
Ukrainian state and nation.

>From Kyiv’s standpoint, passportization in Donetsk-Luhansk confirms
Russia’s “real role as an occupying state and aggressor state, waging war
against Ukraine,” according to statements from President-Elect Volodymyr
Zelensky and his team (Ukrinform, April 24, 27). Kyiv further characterizes
the passportization as a new dimension of Russia’s “creeping annexation” of
Ukrainian territory. Statements from the outgoing and incoming presidents,
Petro Poroshenko and Zelensky, and their respective teams are practically
indistinguishable in this regard.

Western reactions to the launch of Russia’s passportization in the occupied
Donbas are feeble as usual. Yet, given Russia’s recidivist action, more
serious reactions would have been warranted. Reactions from Brussels,
Berlin, Paris and Washington share the following weaknesses in common:
First, the reactions came merely from the ambassadorial level (in Kyiv or
at the UN) and spokespersons for ministerial-level officials, without
carrying the weight of ministers or governments. Second, the statements are
limited to long-accustomed expressions of concern. Third, they have nothing
to propose but observance of the Minsk “agreements.” Fourth, yet again they
ignore Kyiv’s appeals (this time from both the outgoing and the incoming
presidential teams) to react with sanctions on Russia.

And fifth, Western governments ignore or overlook the continuity in
Russia’s actions from the passportization in Abkhazia and South Ossetia
(followed by Russia’s military intervention against Georgia in 2008,
“defending its citizens”) to the passportization in Donbas, this time
preceded (not followed) by military intervention against Ukraine, and
entrenching Russia’s military presence to “protect its citizens.”

A serious Western response this time around would highlight the continuity
in Russia’s passportization operations against Georgia, Moldova (in
Transnistria) and Ukraine (in Crimea and Donbas), so as to expose the
pattern in Russia’s conflict undertakings, and Russia as a systematic
recidivist aggressor. Acknowledging the comprehensive nature of the problem
would require the West (collectively) to take the next step by adding
sanctions on Russia. The Crimea-related sanctions, however, seem to have
exhausted Europe’s capacity to add any meaningful sanctions. Hence, the
West prefers to handle each case of Russian aggression and escalation as an
isolated case, reacting on an ad hoc basis to Russia’s systematic actions.
*To read Part One, please click here.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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