Ukraine's President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy has told Moscow “not to waste time trying to lure Ukrainian citizens with Russian passports,” after Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow could ease the process of granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainians.
Ukrainians understand that Russian citizenship means “the right to be arrested for peaceful protests,” and “the right not to have free and competitive elections,” Zelenskiy wrote in a Facebook post on April 27.
“It’s the right to basically forget all rights and freedoms,” he wrote.
"Ukraine’s difference, in particular, is in the fact that we, Ukrainians, have freedom of speech in our country, free media and Internet," Zelenskiy wrote.
Zelenskiy went on to say that “Ukrainians are free people in a free country” and that they “should not be talked to in the language of threats and military and economic pressure.”
Zelenskiy, however, pointed out that he was ready for negotiations with Russia. He said that “the real normalization will only take place after de-occupation of both Donbas and Crimea.”
Moscow seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and fomented unrest in the Donbas. The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed some 13,000 people and continues despite a cease-fire and peace deal known as the Minsk Accords.
Russia denies involvement in the conflict despite what Kyiv and Western governments say is incontrovertible evidence that it has provided weapons, troops, and other support to the separatists in the region.
Putin on April 24 signed a decree simplifying the procedure for people living in parts of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists to obtain Russian citizenship.
Despite strong criticism by Kyiv and the West, Putin went further on April 27 saying that his administration was considering a plan to ease the process of granting Russian citizenship to all Ukrainians, not only to those in eastern Ukraine.
"In general, we are thinking of giving our citizenship, in a simplified manner, to the citizens of Ukraine," Putin said at a summit in Beijing.
Putin has not congratulated Zelenskiy on his victory following his landslide win in the April 21 vote.
Shortly after Putin's decree was published on the Kremlin website on April 24, Ukraine's foreign minister called it "aggression and interference" in Kyiv's affairs.
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv posted on Twitter that the decree was "absurd and destabilizing" and reaffirmed "our strong support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Zelenskiy issued a statement on April 24 condemning Russia as an "occupying state" and an "aggressor country that is waging war against Ukraine." He called for "increased diplomatic and sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation."