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Putin offers citizenship to foreigners who fight for Russia

russian president vladimir putin attends an international cultural forum in saint petersburg
Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree on Thursday allowing foreign nationals who fight for Russia in Ukraine to obtain Russian citizenship for themselves and their families.

The order said people who have signed contracts during what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine can apply to get Russian passports for themselves and their spouses, children and parents. They must provide documents showing that they signed up for a minimum of one year.

Those eligible include people who have signed contracts with the regular armed forces or other “military formations” – a description that could apply to groups such as the Wagner mercenary organisation.

The measure appeared to be aimed at creating additional incentives for foreigners with military experience to apply to join Russian ranks.

Moscow does not publish data on the number of foreigners fighting on its side in Ukraine. However, Reuters has reported previously on Cubans who signed up for the military in return for bonuses equivalent to more than 100 times the average Cuban monthly salary, and three Africans recruited by Wagner, of whom two were killed in action.

A declassified U.S. intelligence report assessed that the Ukraine war has cost Russia 315,000 dead and wounded troops, or nearly 90% of the personnel it had when the conflict began, a source familiar with the intelligence told Reuters last month.

Russia drafted an extra 300,000 men in September 2022 in its first mobilisation since World War Two. There has been persistent speculation it could repeat the unpopular move, perhaps after the next presidential election in March in which Putin is set to stroll to a new six-year term.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said no further mobilisation is needed, however, because hundreds of thousands of men signed voluntary contracts last year to become professional soldiers.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine has disclosed the extent of its losses in the 22-month war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last month that his military had proposed mobilising 450,000-500,000 more people, and the Kyiv parliament on Thursday began reviewing a contested piece of draft legislation that would tighten and expand mobilisation rules.

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