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A warning to Merkel: Russia recognises documents issued by Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics

File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin walls in Moscow, Russia, May 10, 2015. Moscow's meddling in an alleged rape case involving a German-Russian girl here has heightened concerns in Berlin that Russia is trying to stir up trouble in Germany, with a view to weakening Chancellor Angela Merkel. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Files - RTX24XXM

The Russian authorities have taken another step towards granting de facto recognition to the authorities of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine by formally recognising the legal validity of the documents they issue to their citizens.

The documents in question are things like driving licences, birth and marriage certificates, travel documents and the like.

The Ukrainian authorities are already complaining that Russian recognition of these documents amounts to Russia’s de jure recognition of the two People’s Republics.  The carefully worded Executive Order signed by President Putin however shows that this is not the case

Being guided by universally recognised principles and standards of the international humanitarian law and in order to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals, the President has resolved that temporarily, during the political settlement period of the crisis in certain districts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions pursuant to the Minsk Agreements, personal identification documents, education and (or) qualification certificates, birth certificates, marriage, divorce, name change and death certificates, vehicle registration certificates, and vehicle registration plates issued by the corresponding authorities (organisations), valid in the specified district, will be recognised in the Russian Federation as valid for Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons permanently residing in those areas.

Pursuant to the Executive Order, Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons permanently residing in certain districts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions can enter and leave the Russian Federation without applying for visas upon showing identification documents (birth certificates for children under the age of 16), issued by the corresponding authorities which are valid in the said districts.

The Government of the Russian Federation has been instructed to take the necessary measures to implement this Executive Order.

The Executive Order will come into effect upon its signing.

Russian recognition of the documents in part reflects traditional Russian political and diplomatic practice of recognising and accepting realities.

The Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics unquestionably exist irrespective of whether or not they have been recognised internationally.   As the Executive Order says, it is inhumane to consign the people they administer to an international legal limbo because the two People’s Republics are not internationally recognised.

Recognising the documents they issue seems first and foremost intended to make it easier for the people who live in the territories of these two republics to travel to Russia, where many of them have relatives and where many of them go for work.

At the same time recognition of the documents of the two People’s Republics highlights a point the Russians have long been making, which is that the longer Kiev delays reaching a political settlement of the conflict, the further from Kiev’s orbit the two People’s Republics will go.

In other words it is Kiev not Moscow that is driving the two People’s Republics and their people away from Ukraine.

That was almost certainly a point Russian President Putin made during his furious call with German Chancellor Merkel ten days ago, and the timing of the Executive Order is obviously intended to emphasise the point.

Since Putin and Merkel spoke to each other the fighting in eastern Ukraine has died down, though it has not stopped completely (it never does).  There is currently a pick-up in diplomatic activity concerning Ukraine, including in the Merkel sponsored Normandy Four format, which Putin particularly criticised during his call to Merkel ten days ago.

The timing of the Executive Order appears intended to remind Merkel of that call, and to emphasise the fact that Moscow is perfectly capable of acting unilaterally if the diplomatic process continues to go nowhere.

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