Ukrainian citizenship for the Russians who are subjected to political persecution, and foreigners who defended our country. And if the second part of the decision of the president does not cause criticism or surprise, the discussion on the first one continues. We tell why Zelensky took such a step, what risks can be expected, and how the Kremlin will react.

How appropriate is the president’s decision and what are the reasons?

Dmytro Sinchenko, the head of the public organization “Association of Political Sciences”, is convinced that the process of granting Ukrainian citizenship does need to be simplified, according to the expert, the president started with the wrong thing.

“The sixth president started such liberalization from the wrong end because such liberalization is needed, first of all, for the Ukrainians from diaspora themselves, that is, for the foreigners of Ukrainian origin, who receive citizenship under the general procedure as of today.”

Regarding the Russians who were persecuted at home, the expert notes: the vast majority of them are not integrated into Ukrainian society, will not learn the language and history, and will perceive our country as an opportunity to build a cherished “second Russia” – a country with the Russian culture, but more liberal power.

“According to a well-known saying, the Russian liberals end at the point of the Ukrainian question, because they are just as poisoned by the virus of the Russian imperialism, as the rest of the Russians, they also consider us a “triune people”, and our independence is a historical mistake for them. However, it seems that their purpose coincides with Zelensky’s vision concerning the further development of Ukraine.

Otherwise, it would be much easier and more expedient for Zelensky to simplify the procedure for obtaining refugee status for refugees from Russia.”

Nataliia Belitser, an expert of the Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy, also considers the step of the president inappropriate. In her opinion, it is possible to demonstratively help the Russians who are subjected to political persecution by methods that are safer for Ukraine.

“For example, by granting a residence permit, the status of an asylum seeker, a political refugee and the like. The presidential decree “On simplifying the acquisition of Ukrainian citizenship by foreigners and stateless persons who took (take) part in the implementation of measures to ensure national security and defense of Ukraine, and citizens of the Russian Federation who were persecuted because of their political beliefs” looks more like an emotional reaction to the relevant steps of the Russian President Vladimir Putin (April-July 2019) than a balanced political and “legally clean” solution to an indeed urgent problem. Such an attempt of a “symmetrical response” is unlikely to contribute to the increase of the rating and authority of both our state and the president Zelensky himself.”


Maryna Bahrova, a member of the board of the international union “Institute of National Policy”, regards Zelensky’s initiative as a response to the Russian President. However, the expert sees the restoration of justice in this step.

“Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to simplify the granting of citizenship to the Russian citizens who fought for Ukraine and are persecuted for their civil position, social and political activities is a symmetrical response to Vladimir Putin’s “passport aggression against Ukraine”. The restoration of justice is seen in the decision of Volodymyr Zelensky primarily. Thousands of Russians who fought for the independence of Ukraine against the Moscow occupation will soon have a chance to become citizens of Ukraine. Also, a number of Russians who are subjected to various prosecutions and fabrications of criminal cases in Russia will be granted Ukrainian citizenship.”


But Vasyl Hulay, a doctor of political sciences, a professor, the head of the department of international information of the National University “Lviv Polytechnic”, proposes to consider the decree of Volodymyr Zelensky not only from the angle of its implementation in Ukraine, but primarily from the point of view of the external media impact, in particular in Russia.

“Zelensky’s team, or rather one of the centers of influence on him, are trying to show their quasi-offensive at the beginning of a direct dialogue between Zelensky with Putin, even if it is via telephone. Also, it has to show in public imagination that the allegedly pro-Russian Zelensky takes anti-Putin steps while Poroshenko didn’t do it (first of all, I mean the category of potential recipients of the Ukrainian citizenship – “the Russian opposition”).”


Vasyl Cherednichenko, a lawyer and a partner of EXPATPRO law firm, notes that the normative regulation of this issue remains imperfect even after the presidential decree. And therefore we need to wait for the results of the Cabinet of Ministers’ work, which Zelensky instructed to develop appropriate changes.
“Here it is worth noting that the changes were made in the Presidential Decree, which approved the procedure for the implementation of the provisions of the Law “On citizenship” at the subordinate level, and they are quite selective.

The changes enable a limited number of people to obtain Ukrainian citizenship without officially rejecting the citizenship of their state, but formally renouncing it. These people who are the citizens of the Russian Federation and are persecuted for their political beliefs in the country of their citizenship, persons who have taken or are taking part in the implementation of measures to ensure national security and defense, repulse and deter the armed aggression of the Russian Federation in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts).

Such changes were expected in the community of foreign veterans of ATO/OOS and are a continuation of the changes in the Law “On citizenship” implemented by the Law No. 2743 of 06.06.2009.

However, the normative regulation of this issue is not perfect and unambiguous even after the adoption of the latest changes. Obviously, that is why the president instructed the Cabinet to develop appropriate changes to the Law “On citizenship” to solve these problems.

What are the risks and possible consequences?

Dmytro Sinchenko notes that granting of citizenship to the Russians who are persecuted at home can, among other things, increase the number of voters with pro-Russian sentiments.

“The Russians will support political parties that promise to give a special status to the Russian language, Ukraine’s entry into international integration alliances with Moscow, they will keep us in the context of the Russian discourse and in the orbit of the Russian culture, from which we have been trying so hard to escape for the last five years.

Of course, everything will depend on the mass issuance of Ukrainian passports, and passports automatically give the right to vote in elections and referendums. This is the overall impact. FSB and GRU will primarily get practical benefits. It will simplify their task of the introduction and legalization of their agents in Ukraine.”


Nataliia Belitser is convinced that the presidential decree practically negates all the previous rhetoric regarding the “modernization” of approaches to the problem of dual/multiple citizenship. In addition, the expert does not exclude that in this way Ukrainian citizenship can be acquired by persons with very different and often dangerous political and ideological views.

“Such approaches would have to determine with which countries it is possible after creating a specific list, following the example of a number of states of the civilized world (for example, the experience of Latvia which is relevant for Ukraine). The second option is to conclude bilateral treaties with individual states.

However, neither the first nor the second mechanism for establishing the institution of dual or multiple citizenship provides for the possibility to have simultaneously Ukrainian citizenship and the citizenship of the aggressor country, which is Russia.

But the decree of the president No. 594/2019 offers to just file the “declaration on the waiver of foreign citizenship” together with the document about the persecution instead of the official rejection of the citizenship of the Russian Federation”. Moreover, as written in the message of the official Telegram channel of Zelensky’s team, “…now you do not need to reject Russian citizenship to get the Ukrainian one. It is enough to apply for Ukrainian citizenship.”

In addition, we note that political persecution in Russia is aimed a pretty wide range of people, among which there are many imperials, chauvinists, “Crimeaisours-ists” and the like. Some of them may try to escape to Ukraine, causing additional headaches to the relevant authorities, who will need to carefully deal with the background of each applicant. I think that corruption actions are also possible on the part of individual representatives of diplomatic institutions and consulates on which the issuance of certificates of persecution depends.”


Pavlo Satsky, an associate professor of the Vadym Hetman Kyiv National Economic University, urges to critically evaluate and treat such an initiative of the president with caution. The speaker emphasizes that many oppositionists to Putin’s regime are not opposed to the Russian politics as such, and therefore there are risks that Russia will simply send “oppositionists” to Ukraine, who will have “favorable ground for the promotion of the Russian paradigm”.

“In addition, obtaining Ukrainian citizenship gives a number of advantages in Ukraine. In particular, the right to purchase agricultural land, and Zelensky’s team plans to cancel the moratorium in 2020. And many Russian citizens, including the opposition, have business interests in Ukraine. A typical example is the struggle of Ilya Ponomarev for the oil and gas section of the Black Sea shelf. There may also be numerous fans of the Russian imperial idea among such oppositionists, who will be able to get a powerful resource in Ukraine for its promotion from within.

Therefore, this may provide an opportunity for Putin’s regime to resolve the issue of the withdrawal of opposition from Russia and the creation of conditions for the weakening of the pro-Ukrainian component of the Ukrainian civil society. In the end, the Russian citizens who become the citizens of Ukraine will have the right to finance political parties in Ukraine and election campaigns. Thus, among them, there may be FSB agents or just the Russians who think imperiously and who will pursue a pro-imperial policy in Ukraine from the inside. Therefore, the issue of granting Ukrainian citizenship under the simplified procedure should be approached critically, and this step should be well prepared by the domestic security services.”


Maryna Bahrova shares this opinion and stresses that not all Russians who protest against the Russian arbitrariness within their country are pro-Ukrainian or pro-European and have a clear position on the issues related to Ukraine.

“Many of those Russians who are subject to criminal prosecution in Russia still oppose Putin, fought against Ukraine, took an active part in the seizure of Crimea and a part of the territories of Donbas. They have massively killed the Ukrainians, both civilians, and soldiers, and they are the killers of the Ukrainian people. For their crimes against the Ukrainian people, they must be convicted by both the national Ukrainian courts and the international criminal court in the Hague, which I hope will take place. Therefore, the issue of granting Ukrainian citizenship to the Russians who are subjected to various persecutions in Russia for their civil position and the implementation of public and political activities should be taken after a thorough and lengthy inspection by the Ukrainian special services.”


But Vasyl Hulay assures that the risks mentioned by the vast majority of experts are largely exaggerated.

“Regarding the risks that the practice of implementing the decree of Putin may bring, I believe that they are exaggerated and there will be no mass acquisition of Ukrainian citizenship by the Russian “hybrid” oppositionists. First of all, because of the need to waiver from the citizenship of the Russian Federation, albeit as a unilateral refusal.”

Can we talk about any positive consequences?

Maryna Bahrova does not deny that Ukrainian citizenship can be obtained by persons with a clear pro-Ukrainian position, who will be able to strengthen Ukraine in the struggle for national security.

“Such measures can lead to an increase in the demographic potential of our country by increasing the number of citizens who have a pro-Ukrainian and pro-state position. All this meets the interests of national security of Ukraine and will contribute to strengthening the demographic potential of our country in the fight against the Russian aggression.”


Dmytro Sinchenko notes that any simplification or deregulation of procedures is always positive for the development of the state. However, this time the selectivity of such a simplification remains unclear.

“After all, the procedure could be simplified either for all, or for the citizens of those countries with which we have a visa-free regime, or for the citizens of other countries of Ukrainian origin. The opposite principle, the principle of disintegration, has been working with Russia for all these five years, and it was quite justified, although not sufficient. Ideally, we would immediately have to introduce a visa regime with the Russian Federation, stop diplomatic relations and take other steps to limit any contacts with the aggressor country.”


How can the decree of the president of Ukraine affect relations with the Kremlin?

According to Dmytro Sinchenko, the decision of Volodymyr Zelensky is unlikely to have any special impact on relations with the Kremlin.

“Of course, the Russian foreign ministry can make a critical statement, but no more. After all, the practical benefit for Putin’s regime from such innovation is bigger than damage. And the relations between our countries cannot be worse than they now are. And there is no need to wait for improvement because it is allegedly support of the Russian opposition.”


But a political expert Oleksii Minakov noted that such a step of the Ukrainian president can be perceived by Russia as insolence and a slap in their face, and consequently, it will affect the relations between the countries.

“The distance between Kyiv and Moscow will only increase. This is not a movement in the direction of compromise with the aggressor, but in the direction of confrontation. This is Zelensky’s response to Putin’s decision to simplify the receipt of Russian passports by the residents of the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and the desire to simplify the procedure for all Ukrainians. In other words, the pressure of the Russian president with the help of the passport theme is not successful. There was an increase in rates in the duel with Putin,” the expert wrote.


Text by Dmytro Zhuravel

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