The World Today for August 20, 2021



Weaponizing Passports

Russian officials have been issuing Russian passports to residents of eastern Ukraine, a region that has declared independence and affiliation with Moscow in a strategy the Atlantic Council called ‘the weaponization of citizenship.”

They plan to distribute about 1 million.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014. Later, Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists led an uprising in eastern Ukraine, kicking off a war between the two former Soviet republics. The fighting has claimed more than 13,200 lives.

The passports aren’t designed to make it easier for Russia to someday annex the so-called Donbas republics of Eastern Ukraine, according to a top Russian official quoted in the Russian state-owned Tass news agency. The official estimated that around 470,000 Russian passports have been issued in the region. The passports, he said, are a humanitarian gesture.

Yet Russia is allowing holders of Russian passports in contested Ukrainian territories to vote in upcoming Russian parliamentary elections, Radio Free Europe reported. That’s arguably a clear extension of Russian sovereignty over a neighbor.

It’s not a new tactic by the Russians, who have used it before in the breakaway republic of Transnistria – officially part of Moldova – and Abkhazia and South Ossetia, breakaway enclaves that are officially part of Georgia.

Meanwhile, an analyst at the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Institute for the Future told the Washington Times that local authorities are planning to restrict property rights in eastern Ukraine for those who can’t produce a Russian passport, preventing anyone who doesn’t support Russia from buying or selling a home in the region.

Locals including a teacher said they were under pressure to get the Donetsk People’s Republic passport, the document of the local region in eastern Ukraine and a prerequisite for the Russian document.

Anastasia, 29, a public school teacher and single mother with an infant in Makiivka, a town near Donetsk, said the pressure is increasingly difficult to resist. “The local authorities are doing everything they can to make life uncomfortable for people with Ukrainian documents to ensure that everyone gets Russian passports as soon as possible,” Anastasia told the Washington Times. School administrators, she said, “won’t get off my back.”

Meanwhile, another local was “thrilled” to finally become Russian, the paper reported.

Regardless, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fascination with Ukraine is deep. In July, Putin penned an essay demonstrating how he doesn’t view Ukrainians as separate from Russians, a notion that Yale University Historian Tim Snyder, an expert in authoritarianism, suggested provides a nationalist justification for Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Writing in the Hill, Harlan Ullman wondered whether Ukraine is Putin’s Taiwan, referring to the politically independent island allied to the West that China views as a breakaway region that someday will come back to the fold of the mother country. Joint Russian, Belarussian and Kazakh military exercises near Ukraine have many thinking that Russia is preparing for more aggression, Reuters reported. Such an acquisition would reassemble a key part of what was once the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

Regardless, the tensions continue. Ukraine has blocked fresh water to the occupied Crimean Peninsula, for example, reported the Financial Times. Russia, meanwhile, is struggling to keep up the supply of this vital resource to demonstrate the benefits of coming under Putin’s rule.

Weapons aside, in the war of hearts and minds, Ukraine is losing.

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