Saturday, October 30, 2004

Russia's Putin eyes Ukraine citizenship

By The Associated Press
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/495439.html
MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin yesterday asked senior Russian lawmakers to begin talks with their Ukrainian counterparts on introducing dual citizenship between the countries.

Putin's request came a day before Ukrainians vote in a presidential election that is being viewed as a test of democracy in the former Soviet republic and an indicator of whether Ukraine will strengthen its historical links with
neighboring Russia or push for closer integration with the West.


Putin went to Ukraine last week on a visit that many saw as an endorsement of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is in a neck-and-neck race with Viktor Yushchenko, a former prime minister who touts reforms and is seen as pro-Western.

It is time "to return once again to this issue," Putin told State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov and Sergei Mironov, head of the upper house, the Federation Council, citing "that special character between our countries whose people for many hundreds of years lived in a united state, as well as ethnic, religious, cultural and language similarities."

Dual citizenship would likely be of greater benefit to Ukrainians, who would get the right to work in Russia, where the salaries are higher and the opportunities are greater.

Ukraine already has a massive ethnic Russian population - 22 percent - and close to half the nation's 48 million people say they feel more comfortable speaking Russian than Ukrainian. Although people in the country's western half favor the Ukrainian language and tend to see Ukraine's future linked to the West, the eastern half's population leans more toward Russia.

Mironov and Gryzlov both gave early support to Putin's request. However, they noted that issues such as military service and voting rights would have to be considered.

The Russian parliament is dominated by pro-Putin supporters, and the president has little trouble pushing through his legislative proposals.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told Putin yesterday that plans were dropped to require Ukrainian and Russians to present foreign passports when traveling between the two nations; instead, residents will be able to continue using their internal identity documents.



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