Threats of Forced Issuance of Passports on Russia-Occupied Territories

Russian occupiers in Ukraine brutally violate the laws and customs of war. One of the most egregious examples of ignoring the norms of international law is the forced issuance of Russian passports to the population of the occupied territories.

Russians distribute passports most actively in the south of Ukraine — in the Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts. Taking advantage of the vulnerable position of Ukrainian citizens, the enemy induces them to apply for Russian citizenship through a simplified procedure. People’s Ukrainian passports are confiscated.

Why is Russia distributing passports to Ukrainians?

  • The Kremlin is trying to strengthen its future negotiating positions and legitimize further armed aggression against Ukraine with the need to “protect Russian citizens”;
  • Under the pretext of obtaining citizenship, the Russians collect personal data of Ukrainians and form an “electoral base” for holding pseudo-referendums based on the Crimean or Donbas scenario;
  • The Kremlin uses the population of the occupied territories as a resource to replenish the ranks of the army and colonize sparsely populated and depressed regions of the Russian Federation. The disproportionately large representation of people from remote areas in the Russian army and the deportation of Ukrainians deep into Russia indicate that the Putin regime wants to change the ethnic composition of Russia by increasing the share of the Slavic population.   

What is Russia violating by forcibly issuing passports?

The Regulation on the Laws and Customs of War on Land, which is an appendix to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907, expressly prohibits forcing the population of occupied territories to swear allegiance to the occupier. This applies both to the military oath and to the change of citizenship.

What risks does it entail?

  • Issuing passports to the population is directed against Ukrainian sovereignty and is preparation for the annexation of captured territories;
  • Russian passport, i.e. Russian citizenship, is grounds for mobilization into the ranks of the Russian army to be used as “cannon fodder” in the war against Ukraine (a clear example is the residents of Russia themselves); 
  • The Kremlin can forcibly resettle newly minted “Russian citizens” under the guise of evacuation to Siberia, the Trans-Urals, the Far East and other depressed regions of the Russian Federation;
  • Passports issued under a simplified procedure do not make residents of the occupied territories full citizens of Russia. These documents even look different from the regular Russian passports. Passports issued in the Kherson oblast will not be recognized in the world, just like the Russian passports of the residents of Crimea. This is not to mention the general toxicity of Russian citizenship in modern conditions.

How far have the Russians advanced?

Forced issuance of passports on Ukraine’s occupied territories started back in 2014: by federal law, all citizens of Ukraine and stateless persons who resided in Crimea were announced citizens of Russia.

In April 2019, Vladimir Putin issued a decree on a simplified procedure for granting Russian citizenship to holders of “passports” of the DPR and LPR. In July of the same year, this order was extended to all residents of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and in 2022 — to all newly occupied territories.

About 700,000 Russian passports were issued in the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts over three years. Today, the occupiers issue their documents in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhia and Kharkiv oblasts. There is no reliable information about the number of “passported” population, but it appears the occupiers have not had much success. In order to speed up the process, the Russians provoke a humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories, and then provide a one-time payment of 10,000 rubles for receiving a Russian passport. In addition, they make sure to make people’s lives as difficult as possible as long as they don’t have the document.     

How will Ukraine respond to the actions of the Russian invaders?

Ukraine does not recognize the forced automatic acquisition of Russian citizenship by residents of temporarily occupied territories. Forced issuance of passports is not grounds to lose Ukrainian citizenship.

Ukraine is not going to punish citizens who were forced to receive a Russian passport. The government understands that in the conditions of occupation, the ability to receive medical care, preserve property, get the pension and social benefits depends on documents. There are known cases when a Russian passport was a prerequisite to receive humanitarian aid. 

At the same time, officials, employees of law enforcement agencies. judges and other citizens who voluntarily obtain Russian citizenship for the purpose of working in the occupation administration and other forms of cooperation with the enemy will be held accountable for their actions. The Criminal Code of Ukraine provides punishment for collaborationism, treason and other crimes against the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. 

The authorities of Ukraine recommend the civilian population to leave the occupied territories. They should keep in mind that the occupation is temporary, and the Ukrainian army will liberate the territory captured by the enemy. 

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