Ukraine crisis: Russia mulls new land-grab law

Pro-Russian protest in Crimea, 27 Feb 14 Ethnic Russians in Crimea reject the new pro-Western leaders in Ukraine's capital Kiev

Russian MPs have proposed new laws that would make it easier for Russia to incorporate parts of Ukraine, and allow Russian citizenship to be fast-tracked.

Pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia put forward both bills, and linked them directly to the situation in Ukraine.

Separatist and pro-Russian feelings are strong in Ukraine's Crimea region, which is now the focus of the crisis.

Russian MPs say a referendum or a plea from a territory's leaders would be enough to trigger the new provisions.

There are already many Russian citizens in Crimea.

In Sevastopol, base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, a majority hold Russian passports.

Under Russia's existing law, a neighbouring state would have to sign a treaty with Russia to allow part of its territory to become a new "subject" of the Russian Federation.

But Mikhail Yemelyanov, deputy leader of A Just Russia, said the law had been drafted for peaceful times, and did not go far enough for situations where a state was falling apart.

"In conditions where a neighbouring state is disintegrating I don't think the Russian Federation should be restricted in its ability to accept a territory whose people have expressed a clear will and desire to be in Russia," he said.

Map of the Crimean peninsula

Since Russia's war with Georgia in 2008, the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have come under Moscow's control.

Russia poured troops into both regions to help pro-Russian separatists who did not recognise Georgia's authority.

The other bill to be considered by the Duma - Russia's lower house - would speed up the procedures for issuing Russian passports.

Passport applicants would not have to pay a state tax, and previous residence in Russia would no longer be required.

In addition, they would not have to have sufficient funds to support themselves and would not have to give up their Ukrainian citizenship.

'Fascist threat'

The bill's preamble says it is aimed "at supporting the fraternal people of Ukraine, especially the Russian-speaking ones, who are defenceless in the face of the 'brown threat'," a reference to World War Two fascists who wore brown uniforms.

The bill would allow Ukrainians to apply for Russian passports at Russian diplomatic missions before 1 August, and they could become citizens after two months, instead of waiting a year, as is currently the norm.

The plan to have a new fast-track procedure for issuing Russian passports was announced in Sevastopol on Thursday by A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov.

Several Russian MPs have also gone to Crimea, including Russian celebrities - former Olympic ice skating champion Irina Rodnina, former cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova and heavyweight boxer Nikolai Valuev.

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