MOSCOW, March 6 Russia is making it easier for
native Russian speakers who have lived in Russia or the former
Soviet Union to get citizenship, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev
said on Thursday, a signal to the West that Moscow is not
backing down over Ukraine.
Not mentioning Ukraine by name, Medvedev told a government
meeting that Russia would simplify the citizenship procedures
for some foreigners - a measure to show defiance of Western
demands for Moscow to back down over its neighbour, a country
many Russians see as an extension of their own.
"We are taking another step in this direction, we are
discussing a draft federal law to simplify obtaining citizenship
of the Russian Federation for foreign citizens or stateless
persons who are recognised as native Russian speakers," he told
a government meeting.
He said the simplified procedures, which could see the
granting of citizenship in three months, would apply to people
who had lived in Russia or on territory that was once part of
the Russian empire or the Soviet Union.
Highly qualified professionals and specialists who had
graduated from Russian or Soviet universities or institutes
would take precedence, he added.
Russian forces have taken control of Ukraine's southern
region of Crimea. The West has ridiculed President Vladimir
Putin's denial that they are Russian servicemen who answer t
Russia has based its strategy in Ukraine on its right to
defend compatriots there - Russian-speakers in southern and
eastern regions who traditionally have closer ties to Moscow
than to the leaders in Kiev seeking stronger relations with the
Shaken by losing a struggle for influence with the West in
Ukraine, Moscow has accused the West of allowing Ukrainian
nationalists or "fascists" to harass Russian-speakers.
Russian politicians have repeatedly urged Moscow to offer
Russian-speaking Ukrainians protection since ousted leader
Viktor Yanukovich was deposed on Feb. 22 and a new pro-EU
government was appointed. It is not clear how many Ukrainians
have applied for citizenship since the crisis began.