The OSCE and Western powers at the United Nations have criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to ease the process of granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainians in territory of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement on April 25 that its chairmanship "believes that this unilateral measure could undermine the efforts for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in and around Ukraine."
It said it was reiterating its "call for a sustainable, full and permanent cease-fire and its firm support for the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, which plays an essential role in reducing tensions on the ground, and in fostering peace, stability and security."
The comments came a day after Putin had signed a decree simplifying the procedure for people living in parts of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists to obtain Russian citizenship, raising the immediate ire of Ukraine and its allies who said it endangered Ukraine's sovereignty and would disrupt ongoing peace efforts.
Since 2014, Kyiv's government forces have been engaged in a bloody battle in Ukraine's Donbas and Luhansk regions, where Russia has backed separatist forces in a war that has killed some 13,000 people and continues despite a cease-fire and peace deal known as the Minsk Accords.
Ukraine appealed to the UN Security Council on April 25 to take "real action" against the citizenship decision, with Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko saying it was "simply illegal."
He added that granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainians amounted to a "creeping annexation" of east Ukraine and "consolidation of the total Russian control over the occupied territories."
The United States said it was "unacceptable" for Russia to decide to extend citizenship rights to Ukrainians and accused Moscow of fueling the conflict in the region.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre asserted that "the solution to this crisis is not to hand out Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens" but to respect commitments made to end the conflict.
German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen told reporters after the meeting that "we think right now the emphasis should be on a renewed effort to implement the Minsk agreement and to bring peace to the people that are suffering under this crisis."
Russia, as a permanent member of the council, can block any measures opposing the decree with its veto power
France and Germany, the European guarantors of the Minsk Accords, said earlier on April 25 that the decree "goes against the spirit and aims" of the Minsk process. The OSCE monitors the cease-fires.
Following the publication of the Russian decree, Ukraine's foreign minister called it "aggression and interference" in Kyiv's affairs and a Western diplomat told RFE/RL that it was a "highly provocative step" which would undermine the situation in the war-ravaged region.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that with the decree "Russia is torpedoing the peace process in the Donbas."
Putin has rejected international criticism about his decision, telling reporters that objections to the decree were “strange.”
He claimed that his decree was similar to policies in European Union member states like Romania and Hungary that grant citizenship to “their own ethnic kin living outside their borders.”
However, Putin's decree makes no reference to ethnicity, background, or self-identification.
Its wording suggests that anyone living in the separatist-held parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions can apply.