The European Union is reportedly drawing up plans for a coordinated EU policy of non-recognition of Russian passports issued to the residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of eastern Ukraine.
Lithuanian diplomats are involved in the work, with the Lithuanian government promising that if a united policy cannot be established, they will act unilaterally.
In a statement reported by Delfi.lt on August 6, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said that they were “actively working on a coordinated response at EU level to the continuing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the illegal issue by the Russian Federation of documents to residents of Ukraine living in [parts of] the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts which are temporarily occupied by Russia.” Discussions are currently under way in Brussels on methods of implementing coordinated policy on this.
Lithuania is not the only EU state to have come out strongly against Russia’s issue of such passports. Estonia’s Foreign Ministry announced on August 5 that it would not be recognizing Russian passports issued after April 24 of this year unless the passport holder was previously already a Russian citizen.
In explaining the move, which came into force immediately, Estonia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), was blunt about Russia’s real motives.
“Granting Russian citizenship via simplified procedure to residents of eastern Ukraine is an additional attempt to undermine Ukraine’s independence and perpetuate the current unstable security situation in eastern Ukraine. This is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of the Minsk agreements. Estonia’s latest decision expresses our essential condemnation of such efforts by Russia.”
While all EU states, including those which currently have pro-Kremlin governments, must agree on a coordinated position, the EU did immediately condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin’s April 24 decree simplifying the procedure for Ukrainians in the occupied Donbas to receive Russian citizenship. During its meeting on June 20-21, the European Council reiterated that Mr. Putin’s move was against the Minsk agreements and spoke of the possibility of non-recognition.
“The European Council will continue to monitor the situation in eastern Ukraine and stands ready to consider further options, including non-recognition of Russian passports issued in contradiction to the Minsk agreements, in close coordination with its international partners.”
One international partner, Canada, has already said that it will not recognize the passports.
While the EU is not always swift to act, it is difficult to see how it can refuse to impose a non-recognition position.
Mr. Putin’s new aggression against Ukraine was almost certainly intended to elicit analogies with Russia’s issuance of passports to South Ossetians and Abkhazians as pretext for its war against Georgia in 2008. Back in April, Novaya Gazeta correspondent Pavel Kanygin suggested that Moscow was, via such chilling analogies, making the threat eminently clear of what could happen if Ukraine and its newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t “cooperate.”
On July 17, the fifth anniversary of the downing by a Russian Buk missile of MH17, Mr. Putin came out with another decree, this time extending the simplified procedure to all residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, including those in Ukrainian government-controlled parts.
The three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – already face aggressive destabilizing activities from Russia and have every reason to demand a united and consistent policy from the EU on Russia’s passport aggression against Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers announced on May 8 that any passports issued by Russia to Ukrainians after April 28 would be deemed invalid. An earlier Foreign Affairs Ministry statement had spelled out that such illegal issue of Russian citizenship would be legally meaningless and have no legal consequences, with no such citizenship being recognized by Ukraine.
There were much more controversial suggestions, such as that Ukrainians who receive Russian citizenship in this way should be added to a database of people denied Ukrainian social payments and pensions. There would be numerous grounds for concern about such actions, not least because it cannot be known with certainty that people are applying for Russian citizenship of their own free will. Russia, and their proxy Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” are likely to want the propaganda impact of long queues of people waiting to apply for Russian citizenship.