Putin's Chipping Away at Ukraine's Sovereignty and the War Isn't Even Over

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a decree that relaxes the process for residents of two Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine to acquire Russian citizenship and passports. Meanwhile, Kyiv quickly denounced the decree, saying the move infringes upon Ukraine's sovereignty.

Putin's decree applies to the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, which form a land connection between the eastern part of Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. Russian forces seized control of both regions soon after Putin launched his military campaign in late February.

According to the Associated Press, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin visited the regions last week and said both areas could become members of "our Russian family."

Putin had previously relaxed citizenship requirements in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known collectively as Donbas, in 2019. Russian state media outlet TASS reported that the new decree will simplify the citizenship procedure and waives the usual requirements for foreigners applying. Those standard requirements that are not applicable for Kherson and Zaporizhzhia residents are living in Russia for five years, having proof of income and passing a Russian language exam.

Those applying from the regions will also be informed of a decision within three months of submitting an application.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine condemned the fast-track naturalization plan.

"Illegal passportization in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, as well as in Crimea and the temporarily occupied part of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, is a gross violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, norms and principles of international humanitarian law, as well as obligations of the Russian Federation as an occupying power..." the ministry said in a statement.

Vladimir Putin speaks during a Kremlin meeting
Russian President Vladimir Putin eased Russian citizenship requirements for citizens living in two Ukrainian regions occupied by Russian forces. In this photo, Putin is seen during a meeting of the State Council Presidium at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 25, 2022. Photo by SERGEI GUNEYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Image

"The decree of the President of Russia is legally null and void and will have no legal consequences. This decision will not affect the belonging to the citizenship of Ukraine of the residents in the territories temporarily occupied by Russia.

"Forced passportization of Ukrainians in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia is yet one more evidence of the criminal goal of Russia's war against Ukraine—the conquest of Ukrainian territories for their further occupation and integration into Russia's legal, political and economic space."

The AP reported that Putin's decree could allow Russia to "strengthen its hold on territory that lies between eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists occupy some areas, and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014."

Per TASS, the new decree for Zaporozhye and Kherson went into effect after Putin signed it on Wednesday.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry and Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.