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Experts and journalists sat down in Kyiv to discuss consequences of Russia’s move to issue passports to Ukrainians living in the occupied territories of Donbas and attempts to find effective mechanisms for countering the aggressor.
“When we talk about ‘passportization’, this is an absolutely typical move taken in the conditions of annexation. But in this case, the ongoing passportization in Donbas does not provide for further political annexation, while from a legal perspective, this really reminds of a prelude to the annexation. At the same time, it is important to remember: Russian citizenship is granted not to those giving up on Ukrainian citizenship, but based on IDs confirming the earlier obtained ‘citizenship’ of the so-called ‘DPR/LPR republics,” said Taras Chornovil, a former MP.
“Additional problems being created by Russia make up for the new Ukrainian government that is yet to be shaped up an additional risk factor, a factor of instability, a factor of confrontation. Russia realizes that now the new authorities have chosen the principle of going for concessions and appeasing Russia, as evidenced by all statements being voiced. In my opinion, Russia has chosen the right time to create additional levers, additional pressure, knowing that the new government will swallow them and make their own situation even worse. Therefore, in my opinion, all that is happening is not aimed at the annexation of territories. They don’t need them. Russia is creating a bridgehead in the form of an actual dual citizenship, which will build up a conflict with the constitutional norms in Ukraine,” said Chornovil.
According to him, international legal standards don’t see in this a typical circumstance for occupation, and it does not fall directly under the Geneva Convention. Passportization is a circumstance that is a feature of annexation, but this is only in the legal plane, while politically, it is more about building up political pressure, sowing chaos, and destabilizing Ukraine both internally and internationally.
According to Taras Chornovil, Ukraine’s major responses to such moves by Russia should be international pressure, active coverage of the issue in media, and the development of legislative rules on sanctions for voluntary action to obtain Russian citizenship by people living in these territories, precisely in this way, based on Vladimir Putin’s decree.
At the same time, he did not rule out that granting Russian citizenship to Donbas residents could be a smokescreen to grant Russian citizenship to any Ukrainians. This is, in particular, about seasonal workers staying in the Russian Federation. The expert believes this could be a “slow time bomb.”
“We know that many of the inhabitants of western Ukraine are working in Russia, and we will have problems …” Chornovil said, adding that it is necessary to adopt laws that would prevent this from happening.
“The first thing people will be throwing in trash once Ukrainian authorities and troops regain the occupied territories will be those Russian passports. It is easy to count collaborators this way, that’s excluding pensioners who were ready to take those documents. Others are militants or spec-ops troops…” said political scientist Mykola Davydiuk.
According to him, unequivocal answer on the part of Ukraine should be international pressure. Approaches need to be changed, as we see on the example of the occupied Georgian territories, that the pressure may be weak and Russia will continue what they are doing. They did not stop with Georgia: in Ossetia, they’ve been distributing Russian passports, a certain number of citizens received them, but Russia never suffered any serious diplomatic blows. So Ukraine should seek new ways of exerting pressure, without giving up on the existing ones.
Secondly, Ukraine must definitely play a game of opposition and competition. For example, it could issue more Ukrainian passports, which at least give their holders an opportunity to travel the world way more since our passport is in the world’s TOP20.
“Of course, this is not the primary motivation of people living in the occupied territories but at least this is one more hint at realizing the value of the state they live in.
Thirdly, we all need to take care of economic growth. If such passports are not backed up by a healthy, developing economy, it will be just empty words. Therefore, Ukraine needs to expand the strategy of eastern and western Berlin and offer more incentives because there are not so many military instruments at hand and they are less powerful than Russia’s. We must utilize the idea of a free world, a democratic world. We need to crystallize a certain regional leadership, for our citizens to have a greater desire to return. And this struggle for a Ukrainian citizen, not just territory, should become victorious,” noted Davydiuk.
Political scientist Oleh Sahakyan believes that by starting to issue passports to Donbas residents, Russia pursued several tasks and was timed to the Ukrainian presidential campaign despite the fact that the idea had long been mulled in Moscow.
According to him, the election campaign in Ukraine has created a picture of a better, more optimistic future for Ukraine that could become an element for social tension in Russia. Also, for Russia, the move was about masking their military presence by claiming it’s locals with Russian passports who took up arms, sharing the Russian idea.
The political scientist believes it is first of all necessary to work in the legal plane, retaining pressure on Russia through international institutions. Secondly, to react properly, Ukraine needs to shape its own picture of the future peace.
“We have to provide a positive image, which then could be broadcast through culture, information space, etc., but we must clearly understand what we’ll have in 5 or 10 years, at least some vision. Without this, we can’t form any strategy or tactic, and neither can it be explained to citizens. And not only do we need this in the context of the occupied territories in the east as almost all of our regions border regions feel just 30 to 50 percent “Ukrainian”. When it’s easier for people in regional centers of our border regions to reach the capital of a neighboring state, then it is to get to Kyiv, it’s a shame. When foreign mobile operators there work better than ours, this is a truly bad situation, and when people have television channels of another country while Ukrainian ones fail to broadcast properly, it is, in fact, a huge disaster,” said Sahakyan.
“To effectively counter Russian aggression and impose our own agenda and our narratives, we must actually form the Ukrainian political triad, in the form of a policy of integration, reintegration and de-occupation.
Deoccupation regards the now-occupied territories of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. These are specific instruments, which will be partly overlaid with the policy of reintegration. These are crisis-struck, borderline, frontline regions, liberated territories, territories struck by economic crisis, mono production areas, amber-rich areas, logging areas, Bessarabia … That is, there are a number of crisis areas requiring specific tools, ranging from infrastructure projects to information campaigns, etc. And the integration policy, in today’s reality, has become a pressing issue for all European countries, since the centrifugal forces is much stronger now than the opposite ones,” said Sahakyan.
According to a political scientist, this is actually three instruments of integration, reintegration and occupation, which should be components of absolutely all policies of Ukraine, ranging from economic, financial, humanitarian, and sociocultural.
“At the very least, all initiatives should be vetted on whether they bring harm in these three areas and, ultimately, on whether they help us integrate, reintegrate and de-ocuppy,” said the political scientist.
“As for some specific instruments of de-occupation and work with passports, first and foremost, we need something that we’ve been lacking for years, which is the “occupation law,” which would regulate life during occupation, so that Ukrainian citizens understand their rights and responsibilities… Otherwise, this will be a field for Russian manipulation and fears where we will lose the minds of our citizens, even where we have a complete monopoly on winning them back over. Speaking about dual citizenship, now it’s practically the new norm to be living in several countries: it’s either studying, mixed families or work … This is all our new reality. We must create a full-fledged vision, a comprehensive vision of Ukraine’s passport policy; it is likely that we need to establish dual citizenship, although with a number of fuses set up,” said Oleh Sahakyan.
The experts concluded that Ukraine must maintain a pro-active position on the issue with the involvement of all mechanisms of international law.