KIEV (AFP) – Ukraine announced Thursday that anyone crossing in or out of areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country will have to show a passport.
The rule, announced by the border guards service, was aimed at sealing off the separatist region in what will de facto become an internal border in the seven-month conflict.
Ukrainian citizens will be allowed to travel in and out of the area “on condition of showing passports,” the border guards service said in a statement.
Foreigners will “be sent to filtration points to determine the purpose of their visit” and will have “to show a passport or the required visa”, the statement said. Officials said the passport regime will apply to the area of what the government calls the “anti-terrorist operation”, but did not specify the exact outlines of the area.
The rule appeared to signal the creation of an increasingly formal border between the Russian-backed separatist zone and the rest of Ukraine.
Officials stressed this did not mean Ukraine was abandoning the separatist east, but rather boosting its defences in a war with the Russian-backed guerrillas.
“This is Ukrainian territory, but given that militants are temporarily controlling it, we have to carry out the necessary controls,” Sergiy Astakhov, an aide to the border guards head told AFP.
“It is also connected with the fact that armed Russians are freely entering these territories through checkpoints on the Ukrainian-Russian frontier that are controlled by militants. We have to take measures so that they cannot go beyond the zone of the anti-terrorist operation,” he said.
This was the second major announcement in two days on the central government’s strategy of cutting the separatist area off from the rest of the country.
On Wednesday, the prime minister said that subsidies and social payments, including pensions, would be halted to rebel-controlled areas.