Russia on cusp of forcing its people to declare holding of foreign citizenship

In a move seen as stoking nationalist fervour, the parliament strongly backs tough legislation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 9:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 9:08pm

Russia's lower house of parliament has approved legislation requiring Russians to declare if they hold dual citizenship or face criminal prosecution after President Vladimir Putin endorsed the measure as part of a more nationalist course taken since his annexation of Crimea.

Adopted on Tuesday in the second of three readings in the lower house, the bill will impose a fine of up to 200,000 roubles (HK$44,800) or 400 hours of community service on Russians who have citizenship in another country and fail to tell authorities.

Critics said the law would place people with two passports under suspicion and expressed fear its aim was to whip up nationalist fervour by hinting dissenters were in the service of foreign governments.

Putin, who has often accused Western governments of meddling in Russia's affairs, supported the idea in March by hinting at alleged divided allegiances among dual citizens, saying: "We have every right to know who lives in Russia and what they do."

The bill was submitted by Andrei Lugovoi, a nationalist legislator and former KGB officer. "Obviously having dual citizenship reduces the significance of Russian nationality and respect for one's country," he said before the vote on Tuesday, according to Russian news agencies.

"This is particularly important in light of recent geopolitical events, when Russia continues to come under aggressive pressure from the West."

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on officials, legislators and companies close to Putin to punish him for the annexation of Crimea and what Western governments have said was support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The disagreement over Ukraine has brought relations between Russia and the West to a post-cold-war low.

The bill was supported by 429 deputies in the 450-seat lower house, with only three votes against. With the Kremlin's backing, it is virtually guaranteed passage in a third reading and a vote in the upper house.

The law includes an exemption for Russians with dual citizenship who live abroad and for residents of Crimea, where Russia is now issuing passports.

Svetlana Gannushkina, a prominent campaigners for refugee and migrant rights, said the legislation would put people with dual citizenship "under suspicion" and expose them to pressure from the authorities.

"It will prompt people to hide their second citizenship in order to minimise their relations with the state," she said.

There are no figures on the number of Russian citizens who also hold foreign passports.