By Yusuf Hatip

BRUSSELS (AA) – The European Union on Thursday criticized Russia for making it easier for Ukrainians living in breakaway eastern areas to get Russian citizenship, in the process trying to harm Ukrainian sovereignty.

"The signature by President [Vladimir] Putin of a decree entitling … people who permanently reside in certain areas of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions to apply for Russian citizenship in a simplified manner, is another attack on Ukraine's sovereignty by Russia," said a statement by Maja Kocijancic, the EU foreign affairs and security policy spokeswoman.

The statement said the timing of the decree — issued Wednesday, right after Sunday's presidential election in Ukraine — “shows Russia’s intention to further destabilize Ukraine and to exacerbate the conflict.”

Stressing that they expect Russia to refrain from actions violating the Minsk agreement, EU called on all parties to "fully implement their commitments under the Minsk agreements."

Eastern Ukraine has been wracked by conflict since March 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Pro-Russian separatists living in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions declared independence, in a move not recognized by the international community, including Turkey.

Conflicting parties signed the Minsk cease-fire agreement in February 2015, but the fighting continued, claiming more than 10,000 lives, according to the UN.

* Writing by Ali Murat Alhas

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