Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree expanding the simplified procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship to include all residents of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The July 17 move comes after Putin, just days after Volodymyr Zelenskiy won Ukraine's presidential runoff on April 21, issued a decree to simplify the process for Ukrainian citizens in "certain areas" of the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions to get Russian citizenship -- a reference to areas held by Russia-backed separatists.

Decried by Ukraine and the West as an attempt to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, the move was seen as an effort to provoke Zelenskiy and undercut his electoral win. Kyiv has declared Russian passports issued under this procedure illegal.

The expanded decree now allows all those who were permanent residents of either of the regions in April 2014, when fighting began between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists in eastern Ukraine, to benefit from a simplified procedure to get a Russian passport.

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.

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 conflict in eastern Ukraine over the past five years, according to estimates by the United Nations.

Putin has already widened the categories of people eligible for fast-tracked passports by adding Ukrainians who once lived in Ukraine's Crimea region before it was annexed by Russia in 2014, and citizens of Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan who were born in Russia during the Soviet era.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of RadioFree Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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