Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to foreigners who sign a contract to serve in the army or in “military formations” during the “special military operation.” The contract must last a minimum period of one year.

The measure seeks to create additional incentives for foreigners with military experience to apply to join the Russian ranks. “Foreign citizens who signed a contract with the Russian Armed Forces or military formations or who are performing military service during the special military operation [in Ukraine]” are eligible for the simplified citizenship procedure, Putin’s decree states.

In addition to military personnel themselves, citizenship can also be obtained by members of their families: spouses, children and parents. The period for taking into consideration citizenship applications, according to the decree, should not exceed one month.

Putin had already simplified the procedure for obtaining citizenship at a time when there is a lack of men in the country: either to work or to fight. Since the beginning of the war, tension between the Russian population and immigrants has been intensifying. Studies cited by the newspaper ‘Novaya Gazeta Europa’ point to the growth of xenophobia in the midst of war, which is facilitated by the right-wing populist rhetoric of the authorities and the strengthening of the positions of nationalists in the government.

The decree takes effect immediately, so it could serve as an incentive to recruit more fighters just as Russian troops are suffering heavy losses on the Eastern Front and seeking to reinforce their ranks. Russia and Ukraine have just carried out their first prisoner exchange in six months: 248 people returned to Russia and 230 to Ukraine.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have urged their citizens not to join foreign armies.

The offer is a double-edged sword. During the second part of 2023, Russian police carried out arrests in cities across Russia of migrant workers who recently received Russian citizenship but did not complete their mandatory military registration. Some of the immigrants received military summonses on the spot, while others are forcibly taken to military enlistment offices. Such a raid took place in August in St. Petersburg, in November in Voronezh, and in October police detained parishioners of the Kotelniki mosque in Moscow.

A total of 640,000 people currently serve in the Army on professional contracts, notes the RBC portal, citing a report from the Russian Armed Forces. A declassified U.S. intelligence report assessed that the Ukraine war has cost Russia 315,000 dead or wounded soldiers, nearly 90% of the personnel it had when the conflict began, a source familiar with the intelligence told Reuters last month. .

Russia recruited an additional 300,000 men in September 2022 in its first mobilization since World War II. There has been persistent speculation that the measure, which is unpopular with the population, could be repeated. It could happen after the next presidential election in March. The Kremlin has repeatedly said that another mobilization is not needed because hundreds of thousands of men signed voluntary contracts last year to become professional soldiers, but before the previous mobilization it also denied that it would happen.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine have revealed the extent of their losses in this war, which has now lasted 22 months. But both countries are determined to continue fighting a war in the long term. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last month that his army has proposed mobilizing between 450,000 and 500,000 more people. The Ukrainian parliament has already begun reviewing a bill that would tighten and expand mobilization rules.

Russia and Ukraine exchanged more than 200 prisoners of war on each side this week, in the first mutual handover of prisoners captured in the war since August 7, 2023.

The exchange was made possible through mediation by the United Arab Emirates, which has maintained close trade ties with Moscow during Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Among the 230 released Ukrainians are soldiers from the Armed Forces, the National Guard, the Navy and border guards, some of whom defended Mariupol and Azovstal in the spring of 2022. Teachers and a police officer, as well as military personnel captured on Snake Island by Russia and prisoners that Moscow took at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant at the beginning of the conflict.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that 248 Russian prisoners of war had been returned from Ukraine.