The Russian economy is working for the war. This is no longer a secret. Russian factories producing gunpowder, rockets, shells and tanks operate 24 hours a day. Russian propaganda also works 24/7. And, apparently, the printing houses that produce official Russian documents are working round the clock, printing special forms to register the deaths of military personnel and Russian Federation passport application forms.

Russian passports are also a weapon, and a powerful one. The seizure of Ukrainian territory and its inhabitants is only the initial stage of the aggression strategy. The next stage follows an algorithm that turns Ukrainians into “Russians” – an algorithm in which the Russian passport plays a key role.

It has become almost impossible to survive under occupation if you don’t take a Russian passport. Pensioners cannot receive a Ukrainian pension and are left without money. They are told: “Take a Russian passport, and we will issue you a Russian pension.”

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Car owners are prohibited from driving with a Ukrainian driver’s license or with Ukrainian license plates. They must get a Russian passport, then a Russian license, then change their license plates to Russian ones.

If you get sick in Melitopol or Mariupol or in any other occupied locality, getting medical care may depend on you having a Russian passport.

Residents of the occupied territories understand the dangers that come with Russian citizenship. It is especially dangerous for men under 60. After all, such men are simultaneously registered with Russian “field” military registration and enlistment offices. Sometimes, along with a Russian passport, Ukrainians receive a summons from the occupiers to join the Russian army. Then they end up at the front. 

ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 20, 2024
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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 20, 2024

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Kyiv announced the official position on imposed Russian citizenship long before the new 2022 invasion. Kyiv does not consider as traitors the residents of Crimea, or the Donetsk and Luhansk regions who took Russian Federation passports to survive. For Ukraine, only collaboration – that is, voluntary cooperation with the occupiers – is illegal. Holding a Russian Federation passport is not a crime in itself.

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But as this creeping Russian “passportization” of Ukrainians continues, it aggravates the situation at the front and in the occupied territories. After all, even if someone takes a Russian passport only under duress, they may still consider themselves as traitors on some level, and this sense of guilt can make them fear their homeland, just as they fear Russia.

The thorny dual-citizenship issue

As things stand, Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship, and, by law, a citizen of Ukraine cannot hold a passport of another country.

In 2021, President Zelensky announced the preparation of a bill allowing dual citizenship. The motivation behind this was possibly the need to legalize a situation that already existed – many Ukrainian businesspeople, politicians, and government officials illegally held passports of other countries.

While passports from Israel, the US and Cyprus were “popular” among politicians and businessmen, passports from the Russian Federation were more common among civil servants. This became obvious when, immediately after the occupation of their cities, former Ukrainian servants turned into civil servants of the Russian Federation. This happened in Crimea after the annexation in 2014, and it happened again in 2022.

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President Zelensky has now submitted to parliament another bill on dual citizenship. One article in the new bill that was also present in the 2021 bill states that citizens of Ukraine who have a passport of another state cannot participate in the political process, work as civil servants, have access to state secrets or manage state property.

It seems that it was because of this clause that the first version of the bill was never discussed in parliament. In an anonymous interview with Forbes Ukraine, one of the legal consultants for the Office of the President (OP) said that the 2021 bill did not reach parliamentary discussion because in the Servant of the People party and among President Zelensky’s inner circle there were many people with illegal dual citizenship. If this law had been adopted, they would have lost their positions.

However, now the President’s party is ready to vote for this bill. The law clearly states that dual citizenship with the Russian Federation will be prohibited, but Ukrainians will be able to obtain passports from other countries, and citizens of other countries will be able to apply for a Ukrainian passport without giving up their primary citizenship.

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But why has President Zelensky decided to return to this bill now, during a full-scale war?

One reason could be Ukraine’s current and foreseeable demographic crisis.

Demographic crisis

Demographics experts predict that after the war the population of Ukraine will be between 25 and 35 million. It is not a precise forecast. That is impossible because there is no accurate data on the size of the population of Ukraine before Feb. 24, 2022. Also, the forecast is based on the number of registered Ukrainian refugees currently living in various countries, but this data is also approximate.

What is clear is that not all refugees will return to Ukraine and, if they are able and willing to remain in a shelter-country, they will seek to obtain citizenship there, if the opportunity arises.

Simultaneously with the submission of a bill on dual citizenship to parliament, the OP began calling on European states to reduce assistance to Ukrainian refugees.

In an interview, politician, journalist and adviser to the OP, Serhiy Leshchenko, appealed to the governments of Western countries to facilitate the return of Ukrainian refugees to Ukraine. He said that the refugees are losing the ability to understand their compatriots who remain in Ukraine. “Because people who left Ukraine will never understand the people who stayed, I believe that host countries should stop helping refugees so that refugees would return home,” he said.

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Surely, these words from a representative of President Zelensky’s narrow circle of friends were not uttered by accident. The demographic crisis of Ukraine has indeed become a huge problem for the country – for mobilization, and for the economy as a whole. Making Ukrainian citizenship a possible option for foreigners is only one of many tools that could improve the situation.

However, even if the law on dual citizenship is adopted, the procedure to obtain Ukrainian passports will likely be complicated and drawn out. Also, the war does not make the country appealing to potential second-passport holders. The printing houses where Ukrainian state documents are produced will not need to work round the clock. Their usual rhythm will suffice.

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