Ukraine’s president-elect offers to provide citizenship to Russian nationals “suffering” from what he calls the “authoritarian” regime ruling the country in response to Moscow’s decision to offer Ukrainians in eastern conflict zones quick citizenship.
Volodymyr Zelensky’s offer came after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree making it easier for the residents of separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine to obtain Russian passports and citizenship, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.
“We know perfectly well what a Russian passport provides,” Zelensky said, listing “the right to be arrested for a peaceful protest” and “the right not to have free and competitive elections.”
He pledged instead to “give citizenship to representatives of all nations that suffer from authoritarian and corrupt regimes.” “But first and foremost to the Russian people who suffer most of all.”
He said that one of the differences between Ukraine and Russia is that “we Ukrainians have freedom of speech, freedom of the media and the internet in our country.”
A political novice, Zelensky has pledged to “reboot” peace talks with the separatists that also involve Russia and the West.
Kiev has been fighting Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine since 2014 in a war that has killed 13,000.
Putin has not congratulated Zelensky on his election, but said he is ready to talk with a new Ukrainian leadership and wants to “understand” the actor’s position on the conflict.
In his Facebook post, Zelensky warned Russia not to talk with Ukraine “in the language of threats or military or economic pressure.”
He previously called for more international sanctions against Moscow in response to Russia providing citizenship to residents of Ukraine’s separatist east.
Putin’s decree last week allows people living in Ukraine’s unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk breakaway republics to receive a Russian passport within three months of applying for one.
In 2017, Putin signed an executive order recognizing the passports from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics as valid in Russia. The move was widely regarded as the first step toward the official recognition of the two breakaway regions.
Russia’s Interior Ministry has been instructed to consider applications from eastern Ukraine within three months of submission. Putin enacted the new measures “to protect the human and civil rights and freedoms” of the area’s 3.7 million residents, the Kremlin said.