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Putin Widens Citizenship Offer To All Residents Of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk Regions

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree expanding the simplified procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for all residents of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

The July 17 move comes after Putin, just days after Volodymyr Zelenskiy won Ukraine's presidential runoff on April 21, issued a decree to simplify the process for Ukrainian citizens in "certain areas" of the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions -- a reference to those parts held by separatists -- to get Russian citizenship.

Decried by Ukraine and the West as an attempt to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, the move was seen as an effort to provoke Zelenskiy and undermine his electoral win.

Kyiv has declared Russian passports issued under this procedure illegal.

The expanded decree now allows all those who were permanent residents of the two regions in April 2014, when fighting began between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists, to benefit from a simplified procedure to get a Russian passport.

In response, Zelenskiy ordered the Foreign Ministry to simplify the procedure for diaspora Ukrainians to receive citizenship, according to a July 17 post on the official presidential Facebook page.

He also wants the citizenship procedure to be simplified for foreigners whose rights and liberties are deprived.

Some 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine over the past five years, according to estimates by the United Nations.

Putin has already widened the categories of people eligible for fast-track passports by adding Ukrainians who once lived in Ukraine's Crimea region before it was annexed by Russia in 2014, as well as citizens of Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan who were born in Russia during the Soviet era.

Radio Free Europe:Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.