MOSCOW, February 25 (RIA Novosti) – As Russian lawmakers called for passports to be issued to ethnic Russians in Ukraine, a parliamentary committee chair warned Tuesday that the issue was a powder keg that should be handled carefully.
On Monday, Ilya Drozdov, a deputy in the State Duma – the lower house of the Russian parliament – introduced a bill to simplify the procedure for ethnic Russian Ukrainians to obtain Russian citizenship.
Russia has condemned the uprising in Ukraine that culminated in the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych at the weekend, and has expressed concern for ethnic Russians there.
Growing calls for ethnic Russians in Ukraine to be granted passports have drawn suggestions from some that Moscow may seek to claim a larger say in Ukrainian affairs by arguing that it is defending the interests of its own citizens. Russian military intervention in Georgia in 2008 was prompted by claims that the South Caucasus nation had launched a military assault on South Ossetia, a breakaway province occupied almost entirely by Russian passport-holders.
Drozdov, a deputy with the nationalist LDPR faction, said Tuesday that he might withdraw his bill in order to replace it with another draft backed by all factions in the Duma.
“Support from all factions is a 100 percent guarantee of it being passed,” he said, adding that the new bill could be ready Tuesday or Wednesday.
Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Duma committee for Commonwealth of Independent States and Eurasian integration, said the bill deserved attention but warned that the idea should be tackled with caution.
“Ukraine is a gunpowder keg and any provocations could result in bloodshed,” he said.
Slutsky said it was too early to discuss potential help for predominantly Russian areas of neighboring Ukraine, such as Crimea. But he said a raft of measures would be drawn up in the near future.
He told journalists: “We will not abandon our brothers in Ukraine and more than a million of our compatriots in the current clashes. They have found themselves in a difficult position with the sudden impending collapse of the Russian-speaking sphere.”
On Sunday, Ukraine voted to repeal a 2012 law that made Russian an official language in parts of the country where it was a native tongue for at least 10 percent of the population.
Last week, the Financial Times quoted an unidentified senior Russian official as saying that Moscow could intervene to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea, home to a Russian naval base at Sevastopol.
“If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war. They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia,” the official was quoted as saying in a reference to the 2008 war with Georgia.
On Sunday, a senior US official warned Moscow not to send troops into Ukraine, saying to do so would be a “grave mistake.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to reject such speculation Tuesday.
“We have confirmed our principled position to not interfere in Ukraine’s internal affairs and expect all [foreign powers] to follow a similar logic,” he said.