Putin fast tracks Russian citizenship for Ukrainians

Moscow (AFP) –


Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a new decree fast-tracking Russian citizenship for some Ukrainians despite concerns the move will exacerbate the crisis between the countries.

Under a decree published Wednesday, several categories of Ukrainian nationals will have the right to a simplified nationality process including those who already have Russian residence permits.

Other categories include Ukrainian citizens who were born in Crimea but left the peninsula before Russia annexed it in March, 2014.

The fast-track procedure is implemented to protect "rights and human and civil freedoms", said the decree which Putin signed on Monday.

The move comes after a comedian with no political experience, Volodymyr Zelensky, won a landslide victory in presidential elections in Ukraine last month.

The Kremlin has not congratulated Zelensky while Putin said Moscow was thinking of making it easier for all Ukrainians to obtain Russian citizenship.

Putin had already signed a decree on April 24 allowing people living in breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine to receive a Russian passport within three months of applying for one.

President-elect Zelensky, in response, pledged to grant Ukrainian citizenship to Russians who "suffer" under Kremlin rule.

There were hopes bilateral ties might improve under a Zelensky presidency but that is now looking unlikely, analysts say.

Kiev and the West have condemned the Kremlin, accusing Putin of seeking to further destabilise Ukraine, while critics at home say the moves would be a major burden for the already-struggling Russian economy.

After a pro-Western uprising in Kiev ousted a Kremlin- backed regime in 2014 Moscow annexed Crimea and extended support to Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Some in Kiev and the West worry that Moscow's offer of citizenship to Ukrainians would give the Kremlin a justification to move troops across the border under the pretext of protecting the interests of Russian nationals.