On September 16, 2022, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved a draft law that makes Ukrainian civil servants and representatives of local authorities criminally liable for “passportization”—forcibly issuing Russian passports to civilians in Ukrainian territories temporarily occupied by the Russian “aggressor state.”
The draft law had been introduced by the Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine and published on its official website on September 14, 2022.
Under this law, private individuals, state officials, and local government authorities, such as city council members and governors, are criminally liable for acquiring Russian citizenship or obtaining a Russian passport and for restricting the rights of people who have not received Russian citizenship or a Russian passport.
The draft law determines that the acquisition of a Russian passport in the temporarily occupied territories may be justified only in cases when an individual uses this passport to return to free Ukraine through the territories of the Russian Federation and third countries.
According to the deputy prime minister and minister for reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, Iryna Vereshchuk, the draft law is aimed at punishing the organizers of “hostile passportization” and their accomplices, in particular, those Russian citizens who are engaged in “illegal passportization” in the territory of Ukraine.
Vereshchuk also stated that “international law does not contain any proper norms for countering illegal Russian ‘passportization’ in the territory of Ukraine. For that reason, we must respond by strengthening [our] criminal legislation.”
The draft law provides that individuals who force Ukrainian citizens to obtain a Russian passport are punishable by a term of eight to 12 years of imprisonment. The same penalty applies to those who create conditions under which failure to obtain a Russian passport infringes the rights of a Ukrainian citizen or places them in a disadvantageous position. Even harsher punishment by imprisonment for 10 to 15 years may be imposed if a civil servant receives an “enemy” passport. The prescribed punishment for promoting Russian Federation citizenship is five to eight years of imprisonment.
Background to the Draft Law
On May 25, 2022, the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, signed Decree No. 304 on Defining for Humanitarian Purposes the Categories of Persons Entitled to Apply for Citizenship of the Russian Federation Under the Simplified Procedure. This decree allowed residents of the southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to submit fast-tracked citizenship applications for Russian citizenship. (Decree No. 304, arts. 2 & 3.)
This move was quickly denounced by the Ukrainian authorities, who consider the “passportization” as a Russian foreign policy tactic where Russia “naturalizes” citizens in order to undermine Ukrainian national sovereignty. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the President’s Office, noted that the “attempts to issue Russian passports in the occupied territories are legally pointless and are bound to fail.”
According to a statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, “[t]he illegal introduction of [Russian] passports in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, as well as in Crimea and the temporarily occupied part of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, is a gross violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the norms and principles of international humanitarian law. The Russian president’s decree is legally null and void and will have no legal consequences.”The Ukrainian authorities emphasize that anyone who was forced to receive a passport from the Russian Federation is still considered a citizen of Ukraine, and urge such citizens to keep their Ukrainian passport as a document confirming Ukrainian citizenship.