It’s not just Ukrainians looking to come to Canada. A flood of disgusted Russians are asking too

Of note. Will be interesting to see if there is a surge in web interest and applications from Russia, with a likely brain drain from Russia:

Shortly after the Kremlin invaded, Toronto immigration lawyer Lev Abramovich offered free legal advice for displaced Ukrainians seeking temporary shelter in Canada. He got tons of requests for assistance, many of them from a less-expected avenue: Russia.

Through Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram and email, inquiries began pouring in from Ukrainians, yes, but also from Russians looking to escape Russia and come to Canada — some say they are disgusted by President Vladimir Putin’s ruthless aggression while others are deeply concerned about the collapsing economy and future of the country under an increasingly authoritative regime.

“This war was shocking for many Russians. I’ve seen the measures announced by the government with respect to the criminalization of speech and measures designed to stop independent thinking and stop independent reporting. Really, they’re draconian laws designed to quell unrest,” said Abramovich, who is of Russian descent and speaks the language.

“And then the sanctions started being introduced. A segment of the population, which is sort of younger and educated, realize that Russia is increasingly getting close to sort of North Korea and the level of isolation. There’s fear. There’s anxiety.”

Immigration lawyers are reporting a surge of interests among Russians about coming to Canada as students, foreign workers or permanent residents. Some lawyers representing already pending immigration applicants, meanwhile, are concerned about how their files would be affected by Canada and Russia’s now-strained relationship.

Polina Elizarova, another Toronto immigration lawyer whose firm has been helping Ukrainians navigate the immigration system, said she has received dozens of inquiries so far from Russians in Russia as well as those now abroad in Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and Mexico, where they don’t require visas and can stay temporarily.

Most inquirers are looking for fast-track options, which is not easy because applicants are all subject to biometrics, language test and background checks.

So far, Ottawa has not followed some European countries such as Greece, Iceland and Latvia by ceasing to accept visa applications from Russians or even revoking their residency permits, said Elizarova. However, Canadian visa processing takes time and there are plenty of logistical obstacles, given the limited flights out of Russia as well as the economic sanctions that have made e-payments and transfers of funds to simply hire an immigration lawyer here impossible.

“The situation in Russia is changing very fast. The economy is collapsing. People who have savings in Russian currency are losing money every day,” said Elizarova, who is Russian but whose husband is Ukrainian.

In recent years, Canada has not received a lot of permanent residents from Russia — about 2,200 a year between 2015 and 2019, before the pandemic — because the economy there was improving steadily.

Now, with Russian banks being banned from international money and security transfers through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications system, many global companies including Mastercard and Visa, have suspended and withdrawn from operations in Russia.

“Three months ago, there were McDonald’s in Russia and whatever franchises and all the big businesses and consulting firms had people there. Three months later, things are closing up,” said Toronto immigration lawyer David Garson, who has also received a rising number of inquiries from Russians about coming to Canada.

“People are upset about the morality of the situation and as well, the long-term effect on their country, on their reputation and their ability to function. They now have come from a country that is, at this point, an outlier in world opinion. Your future may not be great.”

Garson agrees with his colleagues that there just isn’t a fast way out for the Russians, who need to get a visa to visit any western country, even public opponents of the Russian invasion, who could make a refugee claim on the grounds that they’re persecuted for their political opinions or if they refused to serve in the military and participate in the war.

“Not only do Russian nationals need a visa, they need biometrics and background checks. I’m assuming the background checks will be very closely monitored now,” Garson said. 

“Canada is going to be extremely careful with regard to processing and the background checks will be enhanced for Russia.”

In the long run, as a result of the country’s military aggression in Ukraine, he expects more skilled Russians will look to leave — a brain drain.

“It depends on how the war goes and if Russia is going to be governed in a different manner or if there’s peace made, then we have a tendency, as time goes on, to be forgetful and forgiving,” he said. “But if this continues and is expanded, it will be an issue.”

Just last week, Abramovich had a successful Russian businesswoman in his office for consultation and the woman here on a visitor visa was exploring her options to stay in Canada.

“They’re living in an increasingly authoritarian system with a very stagnant economy. I think the brain drain could be quite significant. And ultimately, how many people leave will depend on their ability to actually get a visa,” said Abramovich, whose immigration inquiries from Russian nationals have seen a tenfold increase the last couple of weeks.

“Many Russians have suffered as a result of this war, as a result of Putin’s actions. There’s a lot of animosity toward Russia and some of which translates to ordinary Russians. People who do not support this regime are trapped.”

Source: It’s not just Ukrainians looking to come to Canada. A flood of disgusted Russians are asking too

Russian-language propaganda stations spread hate in Canada for Ukrainians, say critics

Of note:

A group of Russian-language journalists in Canada are demanding the federal government remove from this country’s airwaves a pair of Russian-language television channels the journalists say spread hate and propaganda.

Last week, Canadian television providers pulled English-language network RT, formerly known as Russia Today, from their services. But Russian-language channels, RTR Planeta and Channel One Russia, are still available and spreading “weapons grade war-mongering,” says a letter from the Canadian Association of Russian Language Media.

“This aggressive propaganda is used to justify Putin’s invasion, spread anti-Ukrainian hate and radicalize parts of the Russian speaking community in Canada,” reads the letter, signed by 18 journalists from a number of outlets including Russian Canadian Broadcasting, Russian Infotrade LTD and Russianweek.ca.

“Even though we are fully committed and desperately trying to deliver to our viewers, listeners and readers the truth about unfolding events, in accordance with the international journalistic practises and standards, our voices are simply no match to the 24/7 Kremlin war propaganda machine.”

The organization has sent the letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. It asks that a directive be issued to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to pull all channels approved, controlled or owned by the Russian state from public airwaves.

RTR Planeta, an international service of Russian state-owned broadcaster VGTRK, and Channel One Russia are a source for Russians around the world of news and commentary in their language. However, the channels deliver mistruths more than anything, argues Alla Kadysh, a Russian-language radio and podcast host in Toronto who signed the letter.

“It’s been going on for years; it’s basically lies and projections,” Kadysh said of RTR Planeta, whose recent broadcasts have not been seen by the Star. “It’s basically hate-mongering. It’s got to the point where you can’t watch it three or four minutes, you’d go crazy.”

Earlier this week, Canadian television operators announced they were removingRT, the English channel, from their channel listings. That state-backed English-language news network has been accused by analysts of spreading disinformation meant to undermine democracies around the world.

But RTR Planeta and Channel One Russia are still carried by Rogers and Bell, according to the Canadian companies’ websites. (Neither Bell nor Rogers answered requests for comment.)

Critics of the channels say RTR Planeta is particularly sinister. Kadysh said she concerned it is radicalizing its viewers, as presenters frequently call Ukrainians “Nazis” and report false news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She fears it is stoking hatred that may lead to violence here in Canada as the war continues.

She said many in the Russian community have bought into the rhetoric.

“I talk to people like this every single day,” Kadysh said. “They don’t believe anything you say because they are already conditioned to believe only Russian propaganda. You talk to these people and there’s something wrong with them.”

RTR Planeta’s signal hasn’t been available since last week due to an unknown reason; a message on the screen blames technical difficulties. The channel’s website has also been down.

The Star has made attempts to speak to the channel’s representatives, but has not been successful.

Marcus Kolga, a disinformation expert with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, shares Kadysh’s concerns. Often Russian news programming has engaged in a nationalistic stance meant to keep Russians abroad loyal, and uses distorted news as part of the approach, he said, adding that the channels are a major source for news.

“The shows that they have on there are using extremely inflammatory language to describe the Ukrainians today,” Kolga said, referring to RTR Planeta. “They’re calling them dogs, dogs that need to be put down, this is the kind of language you hear where governments and organizations are about to engage in genocide.”

Last week, the Star asked The Department of Canadian Heritage if it planned to address the concerns about RTR Planeta and was told in response that the government was requesting that the CRTC investigate RT, the English and French channels removed by Canadian satellite-TV providers earlier this week.

“We will continue to listen and be led by affected communities,” wrote David Larose of Canadian Heritage media relations. He pointed out the CRTC has said in a statement about its preliminary view of RT that the channel’s programming “may not be consistent with the Commission’s broadcasting regulations, in particular, the abusive comment provisions.”

The Star pointed out the question was about RTR Planeta, the Russian-language channel, and got no response. Some countries have already taken the step of banning RTR Planeta.

Last week, Lithuania banned the broadcaster along with a number of other Russian stations. A majority of the country’s population speaks Russian, causing the government concern.

Lithuania’s ambassador to Canada, Darius Skusevicius, told the Star the Lithuanian government didn’t want the country subjected to the “lies” of Russian television.

“We don’t want our population to get poisoned,” Skusevicius said. “Simple.”

He said during the invasion the network has reported the Russian military is being welcomed with open arms in Ukraine, even as the country maintains a ferocious resistance to Moscow’s troops.

“It’s just unacceptable, it’s a continuation of the glorification of Putin,” he said of the programming.

Meanwhile on Friday, Russia passed a draft law threatening 15 years in prison for those publishing information counter to Moscow’s version of events in Ukraine.

State media in Russia refers to its attack on Ukraine as a “special military operation” instead of calling it a “war” or “invasion.” Moscow also blocked Twitter and Facebook from Russian internet.

The move was no surprise to Kolga, who pointed out Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been working to silence dissent against his rule in the country for years.

Kolga not only wants the network removed from the airwaves, but said Canada needs to apply sanctions to dissuade people from participating in it. He said it’s not a matter of free speech, but one of national security.

Source: Russian-language propaganda stations spread hate in Canada for Ukrainians, say critics

Federal government warns Canadians against fighting for Russia in Ukraine

Of note. Apart from some of the legal issues raised in the article, always felt from a citizenship perspective that taking up arms for another country suggested a higher loyalty to that country than Canada (which country are you willing to die for?). The citizenship oath requires one to “faithfully observe the laws of Canada,” which again, as noted by the experts cited in the article, have considerable ambiguity.

And of course, there are differences in terms of which military one fights for (formal allies such as NATO members or informal ones such as Ukraine and more arguably Israel) or whether, more questionable, fighting for foreign brigades or irregular forces (fighting for a listed entity like ISIS would be in contravention of Canadian laws):

Ottawa is warning that Canadians who decide to fight for Russia in Ukraine could face severe consequences, even as it acknowledges for the first time uncertainties about whether it is legal to bear arms for the Ukrainian side.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered the warning to anyone contemplating joining the Russian military invasion of Ukraine on Thursday as she announced more Canadian sanctions on Moscow and support for Kyiv in response to that attack.

Asked at a news conference whether Canadians who pick up arms for Russia would be prosecuted, Freeland said: “We are very clear that this war is illegal. And Canada will take a very appropriately severe view of anyone who is fighting this war.”

Yet federal ministers appeared less confident about the legality of fighting for Ukraine, whose government appealed last weekend for foreign volunteers to join an “international brigade” to help defend the country from Russia.

Numerous Canadians have since said they plan to answer the call to arms, with some having already flown overseas.

Appearing alongside Freeland, Defence Minister Anita Anand told reporters that while she understood the desire that many Canadians have to bear arms for Ukraine, “the legalities of the situation … are indeterminant at this time.”

The federal government had previously avoided directly addressing the legality of Canadians fighting in Ukraine, or whether it supports those who want to do so. Federal ministers instead couched the issue as a matter of personal risk.

That stood in stark contrast to the United Kingdom and Australia, whose governments have noted the potential legal issues that their citizens could face if they fight in a conflict that does not involve their countries.

Anand instead encouraged people to enlist with the Canadian Armed Forces, which has launched a new recruitment drive as it struggles with a shortfall of thousands of active service members while facing growing demands at home and abroad.

“If there are Canadians who are interested in the Armed Forces, the Canadian Armed Forces is currently recruiting,” said Anand, who worked as a lawyer and legal scholar at the University of Toronto prior to entering politics.

“And we would very much welcome applications from across the country to the Canadian Armed Forces, where we have had a training mission in Ukraine since 2015 and have trained over 33,000 Ukrainian soldiers.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later sidestepped a similar question about the legality of Canadians fighting for Ukraine, referring back to the government’s previous warnings about the risks of travel in Ukraine before adding that he was not a lawyer.

While Freeland did not say whether Canadians who fight for Russia could be prosecuted, author and historian Tyler Wentzell suspected federal lawyers are now taking a hard, long look at the Foreign Enlistment Act and how it can apply today.

Passed in 1937, the act was intended to keep Canada neutral during the Spanish Civil War and basically banned joining a foreign military to fight a country Canada considers “friendly.” Those who violate the law can face a fine of up to $2,000 and two years in prison.

But exactly what counts as a friendly country is not defined, and Wentzell noted the act specifically gives cabinet the power and flexibility to determine which foreign conflicts are allowed or banned.

“They can issue regulations that unequivocally say: You can’t join the Russian Armed Forces,” said Wentzell, who has studied Canadians’ involvement in previous foreign conflicts and written a book on Canadians fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

“They can also issue regulations that say: We will not prosecute anyone, or we require ministerial authorization to prosecute anyone for the following offences.”

Some experts have noted that certain paramilitary units in Ukraine, and even some segments of the Ukrainian military, have been linked to far-right extremism and hate, and even accused of past war crimes.

That has raised concern about Canadians who decide to fight against Russia either knowingly or unknowingly becoming involved with such units and becoming complicit in such activities and later held to account.

Wentzell said it is noteworthy that the government is not only discouraging Canadians from fighting in Ukraine, “they’re not promising anything. In fact, what they’re really saying is that they’re not promising anything.”

Source: Federal government warns Canadians against fighting for Russia in Ukraine

West targets Russia’s elite by limiting ‘golden passport’ citizenship sales as it applies pressure on the coun

Of note, along with other measures. Eliminating ‘golden passport’ citizenship should be permanent, not just for Russian oligarchs:

Western leaders are increasing the pressure on Russia by imposing further economic measures that target the country’s wealthiest.

In a joint statement published by the European Commission on Saturday, the US, UK, Europe, and Canada announced they will limit the sale of “golden passports,” which enables Russia’s richest individuals to invest in a country in exchange for citizenship.

Western allies wrote in the statement: “We commit to taking measures to limit the sale of citizenship—so called golden passports—that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems.”

The move comes in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine early Thursday morning, in what was termed a “full-scale” invasion.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a tweet that the measures intend to “cripple Putin’s ability to finance his war machine.”

She added: “Putin embarked on a path aiming to destroy Ukraine. But what he is also doing, in fact, is destroying the future of his own country.”

A golden passport comes with multiple benefits, which Russia’s elite now stand to lose. This includes freedom of movement within the Schengen Zone for all family members.

The new wave of sanctions comes immediately after Western forces announced that select Russian banks will be ejected from the SWIFT banking system. The decision underscored a change of stance from some countries that initially opposed Russia’s removal from SWIFT.

For example, Germany’s foreign minister said Friday she did not believe a ban was the best course of action, per Reuters.

In the Saturday statement, the US, UK, Europe, and Canada vowed to “collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin” with the new penalties.

Source: West targets Russia’s elite by limiting ‘golden passport’ citizenship sales as it applies pressure on the country

Russia has started issuing ‘non-citizen passports.’ What does that mean?

Of note:

On January 11, Eva Merkacheva, who sits on the Presidential Council for Human Rights, told RIA Novosti that Russia had granted its first ever “non-citizen passport” to Yakubdzhan Khakimdzhanov, a stateless person originally from Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The 53-year-old immigrated to Astrakhan at the age of five, but never received Russian citizenship.

Later, Elena Burtina of the migrants’ rights organization Civic Assistance Committee clarified to Meduza that authorities in Moscow began issuing “non-citizen passports” in December 2021. Other Russian regions began issuing these identity documents even earlier, with roughly 600 people obtaining them last year.

What is a “non-citizen”? Is this a legal term in Russia?

Russia doesn’t have a separate legal category of “non-citizens,” such as in Latvia and Estonia, for example. The people receiving “non-citizen passports” in Russia are, in fact, stateless persons. In Russian law, this refers to a category of people who are not citizens of Russia, but who also don’t have proof that they have the citizenship of a foreign state. According to the Interior Ministry, there are an estimated 4,500 stateless persons living in Russia today. As of August 2021, each of these people are eligible for a green “Temporary identity card of a stateless person in the Russian Federation.”

How does a person end up stateless?

Situations may vary, but in Russia stateless persons typically held citizenship of the former USSR. They may have been born in one of the union republics and, shortly before or after the collapse of the Soviet Union, moved to the Russian SFSR and, as a result, never received citizenship in their homeland or in Russia (unlike registered residents, who received Russian citizenship automatically). Or, they may have renounced their birth citizenship after their homeland gained independence, and never obtained another citizenship.

Why do stateless persons need “non-citizen passports”?

These temporary identity documents allow stateless people to live and work in Russia legally for a period of ten years (with the possibility of extension). Unlike foreign nationals, they don’t need to apply for a work permit or a labor patent to be employed officially.

Why does Russia make these exceptions for stateless persons?

Because they are viewed as one of the most vulnerable groups. Their legal status is considered an anomaly — one that UN member states agreed to combat in the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Russia’s citizenship law explicitly states:

“The Russian Federation shall encourage stateless persons residing in the territory of the Russian Federation to acquire Russian Federation citizenship.”

Russia also has a special citizenship process for certain categories of stateless persons. In particular, it applies to citizens of the former USSR living in Russia, as well as their children; citizens of the former USSR living in other former Soviet republics; and those who were erroneously issued Russian passports before January 1, 2010. Other stateless persons must go through the same Russian citizenship process as foreign nationals.

Source: Russia has started issuing ‘non-citizen passports.’ What does that mean?

One million passports: Putin has weaponized citizenship in occupied eastern Ukraine

Of note:

Moscow plans to issue one million Russian passports to residents of Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine by the end of 2020, officials confirmed last week. By creating new demographic facts on the ground, the Kremlin hopes to alter the geopolitical balance in the region and derail efforts to end the six-year undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine. Despite these grave consequences, the international community has yet to impose any additional sanctions on Russia. Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin is able to continue pursuing policies of passport imperialism in Ukraine with apparent impunity.

Speaking on June 9 in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, United Russia MP Viktor Vodolatsky confirmed that more than 180,000 Ukrainians had received Russian passports since the introduction of a new fast-track procedure a little over a year ago. According to Vodolatsky, a further 98,000 applications are currently being processed and up to 800,000 more passports are expected to be issued in the second half of the current year.

Plans for simplified passport distribution in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine were first unveiled in April 2019, just days after Volodymyr Zelenskyy has won the Ukrainian presidency via a landslide victory. Throughout the spring 2019 Ukrainian presidential election campaign, Zelenskyy had been markedly less confrontational towards Russia than his rival, the incumbent Petro Poroshenko. This had led to widespread speculation that Zelenskyy’s election could serve to break the deadlock in a peace process that had witnessed little concrete progress since the end of large-scale hostilities in early 2015.

This initial optimism was soon tempered by the publication of Putin’s presidential decree granting Ukrainians from the occupied east of the country the right to apply for Russian passports via a special streamlined procedure. “These actions are yet more confirmation for the world community of Russia’s true role as an aggressor state, which is waging a war against Ukraine,” commented Zelenskyy at the time. “Unfortunately, this decree does not bring us closer to the ultimate goal of a ceasefire.”

Emboldened by the lack of a robust international response to his initial decree, Putin then escalated his passport imperialism against Ukraine. The Russian leader issued a second decree on July 17, 2019 that extended the citizenship offer to all Ukrainians living in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts – the two eastern regions of Ukraine that are currently under partial Russian occupation.

This is far from the first time the Kremlin has employed passports as a foreign policy tool to project its influence across the former Soviet Union. The tactic was first seen in Moldova in the early 1990s. The distribution of Russian passports also helped cement Moscow’s grip on the two breakaway regions of Georgia prior to the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Meanwhile, Russian passports have played an important role in the Kremlin’s Crimean policy, both before and after the 2014 seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula.

Putin’s passport ploy in eastern Ukraine is as clear an indication as you could possibly wish for that Russia has no intention of allowing Ukraine to regain full control over the occupied regions. If the Kremlin’s current forecasts are accurate, there will be one million Russian citizens living in occupied eastern Ukraine by the end of 2020, representing at least a quarter of the entire population. This will transform the so-called separatist republics of eastern Ukraine into Russian passport protectorates.

With Russian citizens representing a large percentage of the region’s overall population, Moscow will claim the legal right to intervene at will in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Such arguments bear little relation to the realities of international law. Nevertheless, they represent a far more convincing pretext for endless interference than the protestations about oppressed Russian-speakers that Moscow has relied upon since Russia’s military intervention began in 2014.

The war Russia unleashed six years ago is far from over and Moscow remains as committed as ever to limiting Ukraine’s independence. Putin’s passport imperialism is central to these ongoing efforts, offering the potential to entrench Russian influence in the country while fatally weakening Ukrainian sovereignty. If it is allowed to proceed unimpeded in occupied eastern Ukraine, the same strategy could then be expanded to additional regions throughout the country, allowing Russia to slowly but surely undermine the Ukrainian government’s ability to function. Sadly, there is nothing particularly far-fetched or fanciful about such nightmare scenarios. Indeed, the passport distribution phase is already underway in unoccupied parts of eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has framed its passport offensive as a purely humanitarian policy designed to ease the suffering of a population trapped in a conflict zone, but these claims are no more credible than the Kremlin’s attempts to portray its well-equipped proxy armies in eastern Ukraine as a ragtag collection of disgruntled miners and tractor drivers. In reality, the weaponization of Russian citizenship is a well-known element of the hybrid arsenal developed by the Kremlin since 1991 and deployed throughout the former USSR as Moscow has fought to retain its imperial influence.

Only an emphatic international response can now prevent the Kremlin from using the same passport tactics to consolidate control over occupied eastern Ukraine and destabilize the rest of the country indefinitely. The European Commission has already taken steps to prevent EU member states from recognizing passports issued via Putin’s April 24, 2019 decree. Further measures targeting the Kremlin are also necessary, including additional sanctions.

Russia is currently in the process of establishing passport protectorates in eastern Ukraine. It is doing so methodically and shamelessly, in front of the watching world. If such brazen aggression is allowed to go unpunished, it will lead to a further erosion of international security, with implications that will be felt far beyond the borders of Ukraine.

Source: One million passports: Putin has weaponized citizenship in occupied eastern Ukraine

Russia’s Policy of Passport Proliferation

Citizenship weaponization?

President Vladimir Putin signed a law to amend Russia’s citizenship law. The new provisions had been rushed through the Russian parliament, passing both houses in just two weeks. Under the terms of the amendments, described as ‘revolutionary’ for Russia’s approach to citizenship, key groups of foreigners, notably including ethnic Russians and Russian speakers resident in states neighbouring Russia, will qualify for a simplified procedure to obtain citizenship. Russia is reported to be aiming to add between five and ten million new citizens as a result of the provisions.

While the revision of the citizenship law is in part motivated by the need to address Russia’s demographic crisis, it also forms part of a shift by the Putin government to put Russian ethno-linguistic identity and nationalism at the core of its regional foreign policy. Since the annexation of Crimea and the onset of the war in Donbas in Ukraine in 2014, Russia has increasingly looked to use citizenship for geopolitical purposes in the former Soviet territories by ‘passporting’ the diaspora – the mass extension of Russian citizenship to persons outside the territory of Russia.

The policy is not, however, entirely new. Over the past three decades, Russia has used ‘passportisation’, together with various policies to promote links to compatriots, to increase its influence in strategic neighbouring regions.

In the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and Crimea and Donbas in Ukraine, these policies have been at the core of Russia’s claims to have a unique responsibility that justifies its security engagement, and even military intervention. The recent amendments to Russia’s citizenship law, thus, raise the concern that Russia is seeking to build a legal justification to interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbours, supported by an implicit threat of military action, and even possible annexation.

RUSSIA AND THE RUSSIAN DIASPORA

With the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991, up to 25 million ethnic Russians and tens of millions of Russian speakers (those who use Russia as their main language while not being ethnic Russians) found themselves living in newly independent states outside Russia. As conflicts developed along Russia’s periphery, and the Boris Yeltsin government came under domestic political attack for neglecting the Russian diaspora in the face of alleged discrimination (notably in Estonia and Latvia), Russian policy shifted to focus on its so-called near abroad.

A new doctrine of Russian foreign and security policy crystallised from 1996 under influential Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Evgenii Primakov. The doctrine was based on the assertion that Russia is a great power in large part because of its place and responsibilities at the heart of Eurasia. Within this doctrine, ethnic and linguistic communities with historic or cultural ties to Russia (compatriots) were presented as a key Russian interest and a cornerstone of Russia’s role in its ‘sphere of influence’.

While the Primakov doctrine largely defined Russia’s foreign and security policy from the mid-1990s, the country’s internal problems and lack of resources held Russia back from implementing these ideas. When Putin became president in 2000 and subsequently consolidated power in the Kremlin, the Primakov doctrine was steadily applied, initially in the post-Soviet territories. Diaspora policy emerged as an important tool of influence as Russia sought to build ties to compatriot communities and to exert pressure in protracted conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, as well as in Ukraine.

While Putin pursued a strong Russian national policy, he was not, however, an ethnic nationalist. Russian nationalist politicians were, indeed, kept at arm’s length from policymaking. Overall, Putin sought to strike a balance between Russian ethnicity (russkii) and a bigger idea of Russian civic statehood.

Thus, while Russia reached out to ethnic kin (russkii) and Russian speakers, it also sought to build links to various communities with historic ties to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, irrespective of ethnicity, within the concept of Eurasianism. Simultaneously, Moscow pursued a policy of extending Russian citizenship abroad through the passportisation of strategic non-Russian groups.

In 2002, Moscow began granting Russian citizenship to residents of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That policy helped to increase the number of Russian passport holders there from about 20% of the population to more than 80%. An estimated, 250,000–500,000 residents of Moldova’s disputed Transnistria region are also believed to have acquired Russian citizenship.

In August 2008, when Russia and Georgia went to war, the Kremlin justified its deployment of Russian military forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by claiming they were needed to protect Russia citizens.

PUTIN STRENGTHENS ETHNIC NATIONALISM FROM 2014

As Russia’s relations deteriorated with Ukraine following the Orange Revolution of 2004, the countrybecame a particular target of Russia’s efforts to strengthen relations with its compatriots. Moscow’s move in 2014 to annex Crimea and its involvement in the subsequent war in Donbas marked, however, a new stage in Russia’s relationship with the diaspora. For the first time, Moscow seized territory by military force on the basis of ethnic claims.

In March 2014, in a speech justifying the annexation of Crimea, Putin drew heavily on Russian ethnic nationalism as the motivation for his policies. In the speech, Putin used the word russkii more than 20 times, and he highlighted that the Russian ethnic community had been separated by borders as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union. He also invoked the concept of the Russian world (Russkii Mir), which is informed by Russian Orthodox and Slavophile movements, and stressed an aspiration for unity.

Later in the year, Putin’s use of the term Novorossiya (a term denoting the Russian imperial territories north of the Black Sea, which are now predominately located in southern Ukraine) appeared to indicate that Russia was looking to regather historic territories based on ethnic and linguistic ties. While Putin subsequently pulled back from the Novorossiya agenda, Russia has strengthened the ethnic and linguistic component of its foreign and security policies toward Ukraine and sought to use citizenship for strategic purposes.

In April 2014, the Russian Law on Citizenship was amended to permit the fast track naturalisation of a new legal category of ‘Russian speakers’ to enable the population of newly annexed Crimea to gain Russian citizenship. In April 2019, Russia expanded the list of persons eligible for fast-tracked passports to include residents of the separatist-controlled territories of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, and later to all residents of the regions, even in areas under Ukraine’s control. More than 200,000 Ukrainians are reported to have received Russian citizenship in 2019, more than double the figure for 2018. At the same time, 227,000 residents of the two contested eastern Ukraine regions were granted Russian passports.

Under the 2020 amendments to Russia’s citizenship law, Moscow’s passportisation policy is significantly expanded to encompass much of the former Soviet territories. In the revised law, Russia de facto permits dual citizenship by waiving the former requirement that those applying for Russian citizenship submit a confirmatory note that they applied to renounce their current citizenship in their home countries. At the same time, citizens of Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Kazakhstan are provided with a simplified application procedures for a fast-track Russian citizenship. Stateless persons in Estonia and Latvia are also granted a simplified procedure for Russian citizenship.

PASSPORTS AND GEOPOLITICAL NATIONALISM

Since the annexation of Crimea, President Putin has increasingly stressed ethnic and linguistic elements within Russian regional foreign and security policy. As a part of this approach, Russia has sought to fashion a transnational citizenship focused on compatriot communities spread across the former Soviet Union.

The 2020 amendments to Russian’s citizenship law, thus, mark a significant step in a project of Russian nation-building beyond the borders of the Russian state. These measures appear designed to weaken further the legal significance of the state borders of Russia’s neighbours and to strengthen Russia’s claim to exercise a regional droit de regard, backed by the threat of use of force.

Source: Russia’s Policy of Passport Proliferation

The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism

Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy offers Russians citizenship

Counter offer on citizenship to Putin offers Russian citizenship to Ukrainians in separatist-held areas:

President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy has offered Ukrainian citizenship to Russians, but combined the proposal with criticism of the Kremlin.

“We will provide Ukrainian citizenship to representatives of all peoples who suffer from authoritarian and corrupt regimes. In the first place — the Russians, who today suffer probably the most,” Zelenskiy wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

Zelenskiy’s offer came in response to a Kremlin decree last week that would fast-track Russian passports for residents of eastern Ukraine, with Russian President Vladimir Putin even saying on Saturday he was considering giving all Ukrainians easier access to Russian citizenship if they wanted it.

Moscow’s move condemned

Zelenskiy said Putin should not expect many Ukrainians to take up the offer, saying they had “freedom of speech in our country, free media and internet,” in contrast with Russia.

Moscow’s move has angered many politicians in Kyiv, which has been at war with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine since 2014. The conflict, which began after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, has so far killed 13,000 people.

Ukraine: Displaced and disadvantaged

Outgoing President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday accused Moscow of crossing a “red line” with the passport offer, saying Moscow wanted to create a Russian enclave in Ukraine.

The European Union also condemned the move, with European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic describing it as “another attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia.”

‘New conditions’ for living together

Zelenskiy, who won the second round of presidential elections a week ago, on Sunday also expressed a willingness to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine with Moscow. But he warned the Kremlin not to use “the language of threats [and] military and economic pressure.”

“This is not the best path to ceasefire and unblocking the Minsk process,” he said, referring to a peace deal sealed in the Belarusian capital in 2015 that has so far failed to bring about an end to the conflict.

“We are prepared to discuss the new conditions for how Ukraine and Russia can live together,” he said, but stressed that normalizing ties depended on Russia ceasing its occupation of both Donbass and the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.

Zelenskiy, who is likely to be inaugurated in early June, is a newcomer to politics, having previously only played a president in a comedy on television.

Source: Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy offers Russians citizenship

Russia Used Identity Politics Against Us

Interesting angle with some valid points by Greenwald on this vulnerability:

Here’s a newsflash for progressives who think the Russians undermined the 2016 election via social media: Your obsession with identity politics did a lot of the work.

Judging from new (and old) reports about Russia’s propaganda campaign, it seems that Moscow put the most effort into stoking discontent among identity-mad leftists in hopes that they would turn away from the political process and not vote. Progressives divided. Moscow conquered.

Source: Russia Used Identity Politics Against Us