OTTAWA — Canada is courting international support for its plan to reject Russian passports given to Ukrainian citizens in the parts of Ukraine occupied by Kremlin-backed separatists.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada has presented technical details of a plan to allies attending this week’s Ukraine reform conference in Toronto so they can follow suit.
“We very much encourage our partners who share our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to join us in taking this step,” she said Wednesday.
Canada won’t allow anyone travelling from Ukraine’s occupied eastern Donbass and Luhansk regions to use a Russian passport to enter the country, Freeland said.
“People who are citizens of Ukraine, which is the case for people living in occupied Donbass and Luhansk, are very welcome to apply for a visa to come visit Canada using their Ukrainian passport,” she said.
“Canada, however, considers the issuance of Russian passports to these people to be a further act of aggression against Ukraine.”
Freeland didn’t have details on whether anyone from eastern Ukraine has tried to travel to Canada on a Russian passport. It is also not clear how Ukrainian citizens living under Russian occupation might leave the region to travel abroad.
Freeland says Canada has a duty to denounce the Kremlin’s passport scheme because it represents one more attack on Ukrainian sovereignty.
In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the worst breach of Europe’s borders since the Second World War. Canada and its western allies view that annexation as illegal. Russia has also fomented a pro-Kremlin insurgency in the country’s east that has left more than 13,000 dead.
Unlike Crimea, Russia doesn’t currently claim Donbass and Luhansk as Russian territory. But many Ukrainian citizens there are ethnically and culturally Russian; if Russia gives them passports and treats them as its own people, it might use that to assert a right to the land they live on. For years, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has said Russia has a duty to protect Russians regardless of where they live.
The situation deteriorated further this past November when Russia detained 24 Ukrainian sailors and seized three ships in the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea off the Crimean coast.