Russia allows entry, exit for people of pro-Kremlin regions
Pro-Russian separatist soldiers stand next to their vehicles bearing a flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Photograph: (AFP)
Russia has announced that people living in separatist regions of Ukraine can enter and exit the country "without a visa", a decision that has angered the Ukrainian establishment.
A decree, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, said it will recognise "identity papers, school or professional diplomas, birth and death certificates" for people living in the self-declared Lugansk People's Republic (LNR) and the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR).
The legislation further said this will continue till the political impasse is over.
The Ukrainian establishment quickly slammed the move, calling it a "deliberate provocation by Putin".
Ganna Gopko, head of the foreign affairs committee of the Ukrainian parliament, said: "It amounts to a genuine legalisation by the Kremlin of Donbass."
Donbass is another name for the two regions that have become separatist zones in the country.
Kiev and the West have long been condemning Russia for helping the rebels, though Kremlin has never officially admitted to aiding them.
Gopko said this was another instance of Putin trying to "escalate the situation".
France and Germany helped broker the Minsk accords with Moscow and Kiev after a three-year conflict.
The war has cost cost some 10,000 lives since Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking eastern industrial regions revolted against Kiev's pro-Western government, after the ouster of the former Soviet republic's Kremlin-backed president.
"We are very grateful to Russia for this gesture," Interfax news agency quoted Denis Puchilin, a DNR leader, as saying.
Authorities in pro-Russian rebel held areas last March began distributing passports very similar to Russian ones bearing a two-headed eagle on a red backdrop.
Earlier this month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov insisted that Moscow would recognise papers issued by the separatist authorities "only for humanitarian reasons," and even then, only in exceptional cases.
(WION with inputs from AFP)