Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the comedian who last week won Ukraine’s presidential election, has dismissed an offer by Vladimir Putin to provide passports to Ukrainians and pledged instead to grant citizenship to Russians who “suffer” under the Kremlin’s rule.
The Russian president on Saturday said Moscow was considering plans to make it easier for all Ukrainians to obtain Russian citizenship, after it earlier moved to grant passports in the country’s separatist east.
Kyiv has been fighting Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine since 2014 in a war that has killed 13,000 people.
Zelenskiy, who takes office in June, responded to Putin’s offer by releasing a statement on Facebook late on Saturday that pledged to “give citizenship to representatives of all nations that suffer from authoritarian and corrupt regimes, but first and foremost to the Russian people who suffer most of all”.
“We know perfectly well what a Russian passport provides,” he wrote, “the right to be arrested for a peaceful protest” and “the right not to have free and competitive elections”.
He said one of the differences between Ukraine and Russia was that “we Ukrainians have freedom of speech, freedom of the media and the internet in our country”.
A political novice, Zelenskiy has pledged to “reboot” peace talks with the separatists that also involve Russia and the west.
Putin has not congratulated Zelenskiy on his election, but said he was ready to talk with a new Ukrainian leadership and wanted to understand the actor’s position on the conflict.
In his Facebook post, Zelenskiy warned Russia not to talk with Ukraine “in the language of threats or military or economic pressure”.
He previously called for further international sanctions against Moscow in response to Russia providing citizenship to residents of Ukraine’s separatist east.
The EU also condemned Moscow’s passport scheme, calling it a fresh assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and saying Russia sought to “destabilise” Ukraine after its presidential election.
Putin’s decree last week allows people living in Ukraine’s unrecognised Donetsk and Luhansk breakaway republics to receive a Russian passport within three months of applying.