After a month ago Russia began offering passports to Ukrainian citizens of the pro-Russian separatist republics in the Donbas region, Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a hugely controversial decree ordering that "all citizens of Ukraine" be given "the right to apply for admission to the citizenship of the Russian Federation in a simplified manner."
This is driving speculation that Putin's war aims include complete annexation of territory taken by Russian forces, especially conquered regions in the east and south.
The new citizenship for Ukrainians scheme already appears in full swing, as "Nearly 40% of the 137,700 citizens of former Soviet countries who obtained Russian citizenship in January-April 2022 were from Ukraine, according to Interior Ministry data," The Moscow Times writes.
To be expected, the Ukrainian government is furious over the new decree, with Ukraine's foreign ministry stating, "The illegal issuing of passports... is a flagrant violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as norms and principles of international humanitarian law."
Meanwhile, in another sign of Russia's intentions for eastern Ukraine, a series of top administration posts overseeing local and regional Ukrainian municipalities have been filled in the last days.
The Moscow Times has, for example, described the "parachuting in of officials" in regions firmly under Russian military control:
A growing number of Russian officials have been handed senior jobs in occupied parts of Ukraine in what analysts said was an attempt to strengthen ties to Moscow ahead of a possible annexation process. This week alone, appointments included a former deputy from the Russian parliament, regional government officials and a high-ranking Federal Security Service (FSB) officer.
The report details further, "Perhaps the most high-profile instance so far came Tuesday, when former Russian parliamentary deputy Andrei Kozenko was made the deputy head of the 'military-civilian administration' for occupied areas of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya region. He will oversee economic integration with Russia, according to an official statement."
"The day before Kozenko was installed in the Zaporizhzhya region, former FSB officer Sergei Yeliseyev was made head of the government in the occupied Kherson region," The Moscow Times additinoally points out.
Some Western analysts have said that Putin has sought direct annexation of parts or all of Ukraine from the beginning, while others like John Mearsheimer have speculated that Putin's initial more limited war aims may have changed and broadened in scope since the invasion began, perhaps largely in response to the US and NATO ramping up their involvement in the conflict.