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Putin says Russia may offer fast-tracked passports to all Ukrainians

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By Sandrine Amiel  with Reuters
Vladimir Putin speaks in Beijing, China, 27 April 2019
Vladimir Putin speaks in Beijing, China, 27 April 2019   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool via REUTERS

President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday Moscow was considering offering all Ukrainian citizens fast-tracked Russian passports.

The move is likely to further inflame tensions with Kiev, just days after Russia eased the path to citizenship for residents of separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, drawing condemnation from the Ukrainian government and Western capitals. 

READ MORE: Putin sees 'nothing wrong' with giving passports to Ukraine's breakaway region

The order signed by Putin on Wednesday allowed residents from eastern Ukraine to get passports within three months. Until now, they were required to have lived in Russia for five years before applying and undergo citizenship tests.

Speaking in Beijing, Putin said Moscow was now considering extending this fast track passport scheme to the whole of Ukraine.

"We are considering whether to grant Ukrainian citizens our citizenship using a simplified procedure," Putin told reporters, without providing further details.

Putin's earlier move was seen as a test for the Ukrainian president-elect, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who won a landslide victory in Sunday's presidential election and has pledged to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The Russian leader said he also wanted to know Zelenskiy's position on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, saying he had the impression that Zelenskiy would not implement the terms of a peace deal sealed in Minsk in 2015 despite Ukrainians being tired of the war.

"I'd discuss this matter with him with pleasure as I want to understand his stance," said Putin. 

The Russian President added that Ukraine was overpaying for gas which it could get much cheaper if it signed a transit deal with Russia.

Ukraine has been at war with pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

Five years of war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces have killed 13,000 people despite a notional ceasefire signed in 2015.