By Matthias Williams
KIEV (Reuters) – Russia’s decision to make it easier for residents of rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to obtain a Russian passport is meant to test Ukraine’s new leader and the West should not recognise the documents, Lithuania’s foreign minister said on Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the order on facilitating passports on Wednesday, three days after comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice, won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election.
Linas Linkevicius, whose own country also has strained relations with Moscow, told Reuters in an interview that the West should consider imposing new sanctions on Russia.
“This is a blatant violation of international law. And basically also a kind of test to the new (Ukrainian) leadership, which is also a usual game,” Linkevicius said.
“The least we can do (is) we shouldn’t recognise these passports. How to do that technically, it’s another issue to discuss. Also (we need) to look at additional sanctions,” said Linkevicius, whose small Baltic nation is a member of NATO and the European Union.
Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its support for armed separatists battling Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine. Some 13,000 people have been killed in that conflict despite a notional ceasefire signed in Minsk in 2015.
Linkevicius, who in Kiev on Friday became the first minister of an EU country since Ukraine’s election to meet President-elect Zelenskiy, said they had discussed the passport issue.
Zelenskiy also raised the possibility of resetting the Minsk ceasefire agreement without giving any concessions to Russia, Linkevicius said.
“DANGEROUSCANCER” OF GRAFT
The minister urged Zelenskiy to deliver on his electoral promise of tackling corruption, which he described as the “most dangerous cancer” facing Ukraine, which hopes one day to join the EU.
Last month, Lithuania’s own relations with Russia came under renewed strain after a Vilnius court found former Soviet defence minister Dmitry Yazov, in absentia, guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in a 1991 crackdown against Lithuania’s pro-independence movement.
Russia branded the verdict “extremely unfriendly and essentially provocative” and opened a probe into the judges involved.
Linkevicius accused Russia of seeking to politicize the judicial process by trying to take revenge on the judges, adding: “This is lamentable.”
(Editing by Gareth Jones)