The blockade by Ukraine has made many people in eastern Ukraine essentially “stateless” and it was Moscow’s duty to support them by facilitating the issuing of Russian passports, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has said.

Kiev’s military campaign against the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine placed the locals “in unbearable living conditions, cut off from everything: social benefits, pensions, salaries, national financing banking services, education and health, deprived of electoral rights,” Lavrov said in an interview with the ‘Argumenty i Fakty’ weekly.

The Ukrainian authorities “made the inhabitants of these areas de facto stateless. In this situation, our duty was to support these people,” he added.

Obtaining Russian passports would allow the residents of Donetsk and Lugansk to solve the most pressing problems like traveling freely, having access to medical, educational and banking services, the FM explained.

He explained that there’s an exception in Russian law which simplifies obtaining citizenship for stateless people who previously held Soviet IDs and resided any of the former Soviet states.

“Russia isn’t trying to impose its citizenship on anybody or force anyone to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship. Each Donbass resident makes this decision on their own.

“There is nothing new in our step,” Lavrov pointed out. “A number of European states – for example, Poland, Hungary and Romania – have been doing the same for many years.”

Hungary has been issuing passports to ethnic Hungarians living in the Zakarpattia region of Ukraine for years, with more than 90,000 reportedly receiving the documents.

Moscow announced the decision to implement a simplified three-month period for obtaining Russian citizenship for residents of Donbass back in April. More than 2,000 people have already received their Russian passports, with over 13,000 applications filed. The move caused an angry reaction in Kiev, which blasted it as “aggression” and even filed a complaint with the UN Security Council.

Lavrov reiterated that Moscow has no plans to recognize the self-proclaimed independence of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Instead, Russia stands by the Minsk peace agreements, which state that “Donbass should be granted a special status, which should be reflected in the Ukrainian constitution.”

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