President Zelensky says Russia may invade Ukraine under guise of ‘protecting Russian citizens’ in Donbas

18 January 2022, 04:17 PM

Russia may invade Ukraine under the guise of “protecting Russian citizens” – facilitated by Russia having issued passports to Ukrainian citizens in the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine’s Donbas, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned at a Jan. 17 meeting in Kyiv with a group of visiting U.S. senators. 

“Russia continues conducting an active campaign to passportize the population in the temporarily occupied territories, seeking to create a pretext for escalation under the guise of ‘protecting Russian citizens,’” the president said during the meeting.

Serhiy Harmash, a Ukrainian journalist and delegate to the Trilateral Contact Group, a diplomatic working group for the Donbas conflict, said on Nov. 23 that the Kremlin had lost interest in the passportization of Donbas residents after the Russian State Duma elections in Sept. 2021.

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However, the waiting list for a Russian passport in the non-government-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts stretches into 2025, meaning that the issuing of passports to residents of the temporarily occupied territories will continue, Harmash said.

Meanwhile, 1.42 million passports have already been issued to residents of the Russian-occupied parts of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts, according to the press service of Ukraine’s human rights commissioner.

Since late October, Russia has been massing troops at the Russian-Ukrainian border.

As of early December, about 100,000 Russian soldiers were deployed near the Russian-Ukrainian border and in the temporarily occupied territories in the Donbas, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in Ukraine’s parliament on Dec. 3.

International media have speculated that Russia may invade Ukraine in early 2022, in an operation that could involve up to 175,000 Russian soldiers.

Both U.S. and European officials have expressed concern over the situation. U.S. President Joe Biden in December declared that the White House is working out "the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.”

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