WASHINGTON -- Kurt Volker, the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, says Russia’s move to fast-track the granting of citizenship to all residents of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk runs counter to efforts to achieve peace in an armed conflict that is in its sixth year.
Volker said that by expediting Russian passports for Ukrainian citizens, the measure “flies in the face [of] the spirit of the Minsk agreements,” in a tweet posted on July 18.
“Russia needs to fulfill its Minsk obligations,” he said.
Cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords -- September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed at resolving the conflict -- have contributed to a decrease in fighting but have failed to hold.
Their main tenets include a comprehensive cease-fire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, exchange of all prisoners, and unfettered access throughout the conflict zone to monitors from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).
Russian President Vladimir Putin's July 17 decree expanded qualification for the simplified procedure that had only applied to residents in the nongovernment-controlled parts of the easternmost area of the Donbas.
Ukraine and the West decried the move as an attempt to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and was seen as an effort to provoke Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and undermine his electoral win in April.
Kyiv has declared Russian passports issued under this procedure illegal.
In response, Zelenskiy ordered the Foreign Ministry to simplify the procedure for diaspora Ukrainians to receive citizenship, according to a July 17 post on the official presidential Facebook page.
Zelenskiy said he also wants the citizenship procedure to be simplified for foreigners who are deprived of their rights or liberties.
Some 13,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million more have been internally displaced in the smoldering conflict over the past five years, according to estimates by the United Nations.
Since being elected, Zelenskiy has indicated that he wants to put an end to the Donbas conflict.
In their first phone discussion, Zelenskiy and Putin spoke about a possible prisoner swap and about the ongoing fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Moscow-backed separatists.
The July 11 call came just days after Zelenskiy posted a video statement offering to meet with Putin in Minsk to discuss the annexation of Crimea and the conflict.
Zelenskiy said that he would like the leaders of the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany to join the talks.
Another cease-fire, agreed to in Minsk on July 17 by Ukrainian, Russian and OSCE representatives, is supposed to come into force after midnight in four days.
Putin has already widened the categories of people eligible for fast-track passports by adding Ukrainians who once lived in Ukraine's Crimea region before it was annexed by Russia in 2014.