Russia Temporarily Recognizes Passports Issued by Eastern Ukrainian Separatists

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order on February 18 to temporarily recognize passports issued by the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine.

Thedecree applies to identity documents, educational diplomas, birth and marriage certificates, and vehicle registration plates. Eastern Ukrainians will now be able to travel, work, and study in Russia without applying for a visa. 

Russian authorities cited humanitarian concerns as the primary motivation for the executive order. This refers to an ongoing blockade by Ukrainian nationalists in Western Ukraine. These nationalists have seized three of the seven railway lines linking the West to the two separatist states in the East. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin,argued that the blockade has made it impossible for citizens in Eastern Ukraine to renew their documents. As such, he claims that the decree is vital “to protect human rights and freedoms” in accordance with “universally recognized principles and standards of international humanitarian law.”

The order did not formally recognize the breakaway regions and even avoided calling them by their official names. Rather, the document made intentionally ambiguous references to “corresponding authorities [organizations] valid in the specified districts” of Donetsk and Luhansk. The Kremlin also stressed that the order was temporary, and would be in effect only until the situation in Eastern Ukraine was resolved.

Kiev remains unconvinced by Moscow’s humanitarian motivations and criticized the move. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was attending the annual Munich Security Conference,said, “For me, this is another proof of Russian occupation as well as Russian violation of international law.”

In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated that “the order fully complies with international law, which does not prohibit the recognition of documents needed to implement the rights and freedoms granted by the authorities which are not internationally recognized.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who was also attending the conference in Munich,assured that the United States “would hold Russia accountable” for its actions in Ukraine. After meeting with Pence, Poroshenkosaid that he had “received a very strong message supporting Ukraine.” Ukraine has worried recently that Trump’s stance on Russia would weaken U.S. pressure on Putin,  giving the Kremlin further freedom to act aggressively in the region.

The European Union condemned the move. EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy spokesperson Maja Kocijancic criticized the executive order, saying it was “not in keeping with the spirit of the Minsk agreements.” She reiterated that the EU would not recognize the documents issued by the rebel governments in Eastern Ukraine. The EU restated its unwavering support for Ukraine's territorial integrity, sovereignty, and unity and for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.