Moscow plans to issue one million Russian passports to residents of Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine by the end of 2020, officials confirmed last week.
By creating new demographic facts on the ground, the Kremlin hopes to alter the geopolitical balance in the region and derail efforts to end the six-year undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine.
Despite these grave consequences, the international community has yet to impose any additional sanctions on Russia. Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin is able to continue pursuing policies of passport imperialism in Ukraine with apparent impunity.
This is far from the first time the Kremlin has employed passports as a foreign policy tool to project its influence across the former Soviet Union. The tactic was first seen in Moldova in the early 1990s.
The distribution of Russian passports also helped cement Moscow’s grip on the two breakaway regions of Georgia prior to the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Meanwhile, Russian passports have played an important role in the Kremlin’s Crimean policy, both before and after the 2014 seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula.
Russia is currently in the process of establishing passport protectorates in eastern Ukraine. It is doing so methodically and shamelessly, in front of the watching world. If such brazen aggression is allowed to go unpunished, it will lead to a further erosion of international security, with implications that will be felt far beyond the borders of Ukraine.