Putin SLAMS criticism over Donbass citizenship move

Pro-Russian supporters hold placards reading "Save Donbass people from Ukrainian army" as they rally in the center of the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on May 29, 2014 to support the Donbass people. Pro-Russian rebels downed a Ukrainian helicopter today, killing 12 soldiers including a general and undermining president-elect Petro Poroshenko's fervent vow to crush the bloody seven-week insurgency roiling the industrial east. Separatists had earlier also confirmed they were holding four unarmed European monitors in the same region from which the Mi-8 helicopter gunship was shot out of the sky with a sophisticated surface-to-air missile. AFP PHOTO / SERGEY BOBOK (Photo credit should read SERGEY BOBOK/AFP/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW – There is nothing astonishing about Russia offering quick citizenship to people in eastern Ukraine, as other states have involved their compatriots for a long time in a similar way, said Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Strong criticism of the Russian humanitarian initiative to accelerate citizenship is “strange,” Putin told reporters after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Poland issued the “Karta Polaka” (Polish Card) for ethnic Poles in Ukraine, while Hungary and Romania issue passports under similar programs, he added.

This is also the case for native Ukrainians who “feel connected to Russia” for various reasons, such as family ties or mixed marriages, continued the Russian president.

“Moreover, if other Ukrainian neighbors do this many years ago, why cannot Russia do the same?” Putin questioned.

“I have a question about that – are Russians living in Ukraine not as good as Romanians, Poles and Hungarians?” he added.

Earlier this week, a presidential decree was signed to facilitate the process of obtaining Russian citizenship for people in Donbass. They can apply for a Russian passport on an accelerated program and get it within three months.

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Unsurprisingly, the movement attracted criticism from Kiev, where President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky is about to take office. However, Putin said that the proposal is not intended to provoke anyone.

“The passport issue is humanitarian,” he said.

The Russian-speaking ethnic minority and Ukrainian-Russians are in a precarious situation because they have been deprived of “many things [including] fundamental human rights. Those coming from eastern Ukraine often have problems in everyday life, whether at a university or simply booking a flight,” Putin continued.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government seems to show little interest in implementing the milestone of the Minsk peace accord, as they essentially cut off the region from the rest of the country.

“And the people who live in these territories, will they be left behind living in complete isolation?” Putin asked.

However, Moscow is ready to restore ties with Kiev, “in full, but not unilaterally.”

Zelensky, who has campaigned against the Ukrainian people’s exhaustion with the war, signaled they could be more flexible in reaching agreement on the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, but it is not yet clear whether he will keep his promise, Putin said.

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