Ukraine's Zelensky urges Russia sanctions after citizenship rule change

Ukraine president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured April 21, 2019) said the move was "clear confirmation for the world of Russia's real role as an aggressor state" (AFP Photo/Genya SAVILOV)

Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday urged more international sanctions against Russia after Moscow made it easier for people living in eastern Ukraine's separatist territories to obtain Russian passports.

Kiev is "counting on increased diplomatic and sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation," Zelensky's press service said in a statement.

"The Russian Federation has recognized its responsibility as an occupying state," it added referring to the Russian President Vladimir Putin's decree which was signed earlier today.

The decree was aimed at residents of the unrecognised Donetsk and Lugansk republics that broke away from Kiev in 2014 and are governed by Moscow-backed rebels.

People living in the separatist regions will now be entitled to receive a Russian passport within three months of applying for one.

Ukraine's outgoing President Petro Poroshenko also slammed the decision, calling it "Russia's unprecedented interference in the internal affairs of an independent state."

"This is an attempt to justify and legitimize Russia's military presence in the occupied part of the Ukrainian Donbass," Poroshenko said in a video statement, referring to the Kremlin-backed separatist areas.

The conflict between the Ukrainian government and breakaway rebels began after Moscow annexed Kiev's Crimea peninsula in 2014. The war has claimed some 13,000 lives.

Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms across the border to fan the flames of the conflict.

Moscow denies the claims.