Passport Wars: A Travel Document or Weapon

Never mind trade or soccer wars: politicians are now using passports as an offensive weapon.

Days after the election of Ukraine’s new president Volodymr Zelenskiy, Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, announced that he would offer a Russian passport to all Ukrainians, not just those living in the east of the country.

President Zelenskiy, due to assume office in June, rejected the offer swiftly. According to the Kyiv Post, he said: “I would advise the Russian authorities against attempting to seduce Ukrainian citizens with Russian passports. Of course, there may still be people who are still under the influence of propaganda or hope to earn more money to escape criminal responsibility.”

“But what sets Ukraine apart is here we have free speech, media and Internet. And that is why we know what a Russian passport really means – the right to be arrested for a peaceful protest, the right to have no free and fair elections, the right to forget that inalienable human rights and freedoms even exist.”

Kyiv has been fighting Moscow-backed rebels in the east of Ukraine for more than five years, in a war that has killed 13,000 people, and led to Russia seizing the Crimea and other parts of the country.

The European Union added its voice to the condemnation of Moscow’s passport offer, calling it a fresh assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and saying Russia sought to “destabilise” Ukraine after its presidential election.

“This is not the first time we have seen passports being used in a hostile and aggressive manner, even if it one of the most blatant,” says Armand Arton, Founder and President of Arton Capital and the originator of the Passport Index, an interactive online tool that provides users with real-time rankings of passports. “At the Passport Index we monitor the strength of a country’s passport. Rather like a currency, the passport of a country is a good sign of its health and influence.”

A comparison of the two will make a bleak reading for Russia’s ruler. The passport of the Russian Federation has visa free access to 117 countries and is ranked at number 37 on the list, level with Georgia. Ukraine, in contrast, is much further up the index at number 25, just behind Antigua & Barbuda, with a visa-free score of 132 countries. In February, Ukraine concluded a visa-free entry with Uruguay, which gives its citizens entry into most of South America with just a few exceptions. It has also concluded a deal with the European Union, which allows Ukrainians to enter the Schengen area of the EU for up to 90 days without a visa. These benefits are unavailable to Russian passport holders.

Ironically Ukraine has been at the centre of a passport war for a number of years now with neighbours to the west. In an attempt to protect the rights and interests of ethnic Hungarians, Poles and Romanians living in Ukraine, these countries have been handing out passports, even though according to Ukrainian law, dual nationality is not allowed.

Elsewhere in Europe, Moldovans have been offered Romanian and Bulgarian passports by their respective governments.

“Passports are used to contain populations, but also to attract citizens,” says Armand Arton. “Increasingly, they are being used to as a political tool.”

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