Putin’s passport scheme signal of further aggression against Ukraine, Portnikov says

Ruins in the Donbas after the Russian military aggression in Ukraine (Photo: Flickr-UNICEF Ukraine-CC BY 2.0)

Ruins in the Donbas after the Russian military aggression in Ukraine (Photo: Flickr-UNICEF Ukraine-CC BY 2.0) 

International, Op-ed

Vladimir Putin’s plan to offer Russian citizenship to anyone in the Russian-occupied portions of the Donbas who wants it is designed to transform those regions into a Moscow protectorate and set the stage for further Russian aggression against Ukraine as a whole, Vitaly Portnikov says.

Many Ukrainians have long assumed that Putin was planning to take this step, the Kyiv analyst says, with some saying he would do so if Petro Poroshenko was re-elected in order to punish Ukraine and others arguing that he would do so if as has happened Volodymyr Zelenskyy was to set the stage for talks.

While both sides in this debate may have had some justification for their positions, Portnikov argues, “Putin would have signed this degree in any case,” not to “’punish’ Poroshenko” or “’pacify Zelenskyy.” That is because “it isn’t so important to Putin who will be president of Ukraine.” He has larger goals.

For Putin, what matters is “chaos in Ukraine, the weakness of its state, the demoralization of its society, the promotion of tiredness from the war and a readiness on the part of many to end it by any means.” The presidential campaign in Ukraine has given Putin a great opportunity “for the next stage of the operation aimed at destroying Ukraine.” Passportization is the signal.

The Kremlin leader, of course, argues that he has taken this step because of the problems people in the Donbas now face, hoping no one will notice that every single one of those problems is something that Putin and his policies have created, Portnikov continues.

Putin’s latest decree “allows those who live in the occupied Donbas to choose between Ukraine and Russia already not so much from the point of view of residence as from that of citizenship. As a result, the border between ‘the people’s republics’ and the Russian Federation now really will disappear as it did earlier between Russia and Abkhazia or South Ossetia.”

“And this of course,” Portnikov continues, “is a powerful and serious signal to the elites and residents of the east and south east or more precisely to that part of them which would like to join their regions to Russia or return them to their accustomed status as Russian colonies,” to be in fact once again “Novorossiya.”

By this action, Putin has shown that he isn’t able or doesn’t yet want to take these regions into Russia but instead plans to “transform them into Russian protectorates.” Indeed, one can say that “this decree is an invitation to protectorates.” And that in turn means that “the Kremlin is certain” that now it can seize new territories “without particular concern.”

That likely would have happened even if Poroshenko had been re-elected so one cannot say that this is a response to Zelenskyy’s victory. But the effectiveness of the new government is something Moscow clearly assumes it can test with less risk to itself than it suffered with its predecessor.

That should be clear to everyone. The Kremlin would never have so openly violated the Minsk Agreements “if its denizens weren’t certain of the directions they intend to proceed in,” directions that involve more attacks against and efforts at subversion of Ukraine as a whole and efforts to undermine Western support for Ukraine’s defense of itself.

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Edited by: A. N.

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