Community News

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Russian Passports in Ukraine?

By The New York Times

In a post over the weekend, Paul A. Goble of Window on Eurasia describes concern in Ukraine that the Russian government is going to issue more passports to ethnic Russians and others in Ukraine, just as it did to the South Ossetians in Georgia, a way of encouraging dual citizenship.

Vienna, Aug. 16 – Moscow’s claim that it had the right to intervene in Georgia to protect people there with Russian passports, and indications that Russian and Ossetian officials stepped up the distribution of such passports before the conflict have raised concerns among Ukrainians that the Russia may do the same in Crimea or in other parts of their country.

An article posted on Kiev’s Gazeta.24 Web site today argues that “Ukraine can no longer close its eyes to the problem of dual citizenship” because of the tactic Moscow adopted in Georgia and that the Ukrainian government must do more to enforce that country’s constitutional ban on that status.

At present, the Web site notes, there are only 15,000 Russian citizens — almost all of whom are in the Russian navy — out of the 400,000 residents of Sevastopol, but “representatives of certain pro-Russian parties declare that on the peninsula [as a whole] there are about 170,000 citizens of the Russian Federation.”

But the site notes that “certain politicians are asserting that Russia is massively distributing its passports to Sevastopol residents,” something that could change the political coloration of the city and that, as the events in Georgia show, could easily be invoked by Moscow as a pretext for a military move there.

Anatoly Gritsenko, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament’s national security committee, told the site that “we will send queries to the corresponding special services in order to clarify how many people have on the territory of Ukraine have dual citizenship.” If the number is large, he continued, that in itself would represent “a threat to national security.”

The Ukrainian constitution prohibits dual citizenship, but except in rare cases, the government has not tried to do anything to enforce this provision. As a result, many Ukrainians currently have dual citizenship including deputies of the parliament and other prominent officials as well.

Gazeta.24 reports that in one oblast, many Ukrainians have Romanian passports; in another Polish, and in many of the eastern oblasts, Russian passports. In the past, few viewed this as an anything more than a “survival of the past” or an irritant. But now Russian actions in Georgia have raised the stakes.

Even though the Russian embassy in Kiev said reports that Moscow is distributing Russian passports in Ukraine are “disinformation,” the very possibility that Russia could do so and thus exploit the situation as it did in Georgia is the primary reason why Ukrainian officials are currently re-examining their approach to dual citizenship.

But the portal notes, “the threat of the application of the South Ossetian and Kosovo scenarios in Ukraine also comes from the side of Romania.” According to some experts, “70 percent of the population of Bukovina have dual citizenship” with that country, the result of Ukrainians wanting to take advantage of Bucharest’s relationship with the European Union.

Since 1991, Moscow has regularly but largely unsuccessfully tried to promote the idea of dual citizenship across the post-Soviet space, even though as Vsevolod Loskutov, the minister counselor at the Russian embassy in Kiev points out, Moscow itself “does not recognize dual citizenship.”

“If an individual has a passport of Russia,” the Russian embassy officer continued, “we do not seek information” about what other passports he may hold. “For us, he is a citizen of Russia. And that’s all.”

Not surprisingly, such a position, in which Moscow insists that it will view as a Russian citizen anyone with a Russian passport but will not recognize an individual with the passport of another country as having dual citizenship is just the kind of asymmetry that will do nothing to calm fears in Kiev and elsewhere that Russia may play this card again in the future.

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