Ukraine's President-Elect Rejects Russian Passport Plan

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president-elect has mocked Russia's offer to give passports to his countrymen, saying the document would provide "the right to be arrested".

In a Facebook post rejecting the idea, Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to give citizenship to "suffering" Russians.

Earlier this week, Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed a decree offering people in eastern Ukraine's separatist territories passports.

He later said he was mulling extending the scheme to all Ukrainians.

But Mr Zelensky - a former comedian with no political experience who was elected last Sunday - said he did not believe many of his countrymen would take up the offer.

"Ukrainians are free people in a free country," he said.

Instead, he offered citizenship to "all people who suffer from authoritarian and corrupt regimes", but firstly "to the Russian people who suffer most of all".

What did Putin say? 

On Wednesday, the Russian leader announced the passport scheme would be applied to Donetsk and Luhansk, the self-declared republics seized by Russian-backed separatists in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Crimea itself was incorporated into Russia, giving its inhabitants the same citizenship rights as those in Russia.

Mr Putin said people living in Donetsk and Luhansk who considered themselves Russian were entitled to Russian passports.

On Saturday, he said: "We're considering providing a simplified procedure [of obtaining Russian citizenship] to all the residents of Ukraine."

How did Ukraine respond? 

Mr Zelensky said a Russian passport provides "the right to be arrested for a peaceful protest" and "the right not to have free and competitive elections."

He also demanded a "complete de-occupation" of eastern Ukraine and Crimea stressing that his country "doesn't give up".

Ukrainian politicians accuse Russia of trying to make its territorial divisions permanent.

But Mr Zelensky also struck a conciliatory tone, saying he was ready for negotiations on the armed conflict, that has claimed about 13,000 lives since 2014.

"I hope that Russia is more inclined to speak than to shoot," he wrote.

In the run-up to his election, he said he had wanted to "renew relations" with eastern Ukraine and start a "powerful information war to end the conflict".

In response, Russia said it wanted him to show "sound judgement", "honesty" and "pragmatism" so that relations could improve.

Source: BBC News