Before long, Ukrainian and Russian nationals wishing to cross the Russo-Ukrainian border will not be able to do so unless they carry their international passports with them. These regulations could have taken effect early this year. However, Kyiv suggested the introduction of the new regulations be postponed until a later date. According to the Russian mass media, Moscow has allegedly suggested switching over to international passports as soon as July 1. Kyiv, however, is again urging Moscow not to hurry.
On January 14, Serhiy Borodenkov, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry press service chief, said that the above date is ill timed and, therefore, the introduction of this new procedure for crossing the border could have negative consequences. First, there are too many Ukrainian citizens in Russia who will not be able to obtain international passports in such a short period of time. The Ukrainian consulates in Russia, which will be issuing them, are too few to make the process of issuing passports go smoothly. Considering the fact that it is not all that cheap to obtain an international passport (UAH 90), one can imagine how the majority of citizens will receive the Russo-Ukrainian innovation.
According to unofficial estimates, last year alone some 5,000,000 Ukrainians visited Russia. Diplomats at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry say they put the above considerations first in a bid to delay the date of the introduction of the new procedure for border crossings until the end of 2003. However, according to Mr. Borodenkov, talks with the Russians are still under way. Therefore, it is too early to speak about any definitive solutions to the international passport dilemma.
It needs to be mentioned, though, that the issue of international passports in the Russo-Ukrainian relationship is far from new. Over the past couple of years, it has been given much publicity in the mass media. Incidentally, the proposal to switch to international passports initially came from Ukraine. Kyiv kept stressing that this would help stem the influx of illegal migrants (it is an open secret that a considerable part of illegal migrants find their way into Ukraine across the north-eastern border). Russia did not object to such a measure, but, just like Ukraine now, it stressed its ill-timed nature. Against this background, the Russian mass media kept taunting Ukrainian authorities who have been thoughtlessly “erecting new walls and barriers between the two sister states.” Therefore, the Russians’ determination to go ahead with the passport proposal now looks quite unexpected and obviously caught Ukraine off-guard. Ukrainian diplomats unofficially attribute Moscow’s sudden determination to the fact that Russia’s proposal to join the EurAsEC was met with a rebuff from Kyiv. At the same time, Ukrainian officials maintain that Kyiv wants to switch to international passports. It needs time, however, to prepare Ukrainians for this change.
Incidentally, Kyiv does have experience with shifting to international passports. In 2001, the Ukrainian government issued a decree declaring that all citizens of post-Soviet states-except Russia, Belarus, and Moldova-must carry foreign passports in order to cross the Ukrainian border.
Be that as it may, the ill-conceived introduction of the new procedure for crossing the Russo-Ukrainian border in 2003, on Moscow’s initiative, may become some kind of achievement of the year of Russia in Ukraine.