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

State Duma simplifies issuance of Russian citizenship to Ukrainians

Part of the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia:

The State Duma of Russia has adopted the law, according to which the Russian president is authorized to “define the categories of the foreign citizens in humanitarian purposes, which have the right for the acquisition of citizenship in simplified order” as the press service of the State Duma reported.“The amendments to the Law “On the citizenship of the Russian Federation” in the third, final reading at the plenary session on Tuesday, December 18, were supported by all parliamentary groups of the State Duma. The law empowers the president of Russia with a right to define the categories of the foreigners, which have the rights for the acquisition of the Russian citizenship in the simplified order,” the message said.

According to the authors of the document, the law allows to grant the citizenship in the simplified regime to the people from the states “with difficult social-political and economic situation, where the armed conflicts or change of the political regime takes place”. Moreover, the amendments simplify the granting of the Russian citizenship to the fellow countrymen. According to the new rules, they can file the applications for the citizenship not basing on the place of registration as it was earlier but basing on the place of stay.

“First of all, these amendments will allow President Vladimir V. Putin to support our fellow countrymen in Ukraine. Millions of people became the hostages of the political adventurism of Petro Poroshenko, who is ready for any steps to preserve his person power – from the military provocation up to the division of Church and persecution of the religious people,” Viacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma claimed.

The law will come into force in 90 days after publishing.

As we reported, 39,582 citizens of Ukraine were granted the Russian citizenship in 2018. Since January 2018 until June 2018, 39,582 citizens of Ukraine were granted the Russian citizenship (it was accepted, restored or recognized).

Source: State Duma simplifies issuance of Russian citizenship to Ukrainians

The Russian spies who raised us

For fans of the series “The Americans,” spy stories in general, and citizenship policy wonks, this long read of the Vavilov brothers, their parents and the citizenship case is fascinating:

Nine hundred kilometres away, at a townhouse near Boston, two other “Foleys” were deep in their own state of shock: the Canadian-born sons of the fake Tracey Foley and her fellow-spy husband, Donald Heathfield, whose bogus ID was also stolen from a dead Montreal infant. Alexander Foley was 16 when the story hit, and his older brother, Timothy, had just turned 20. They could do nothing but watch as FBI agents burst in and handcuffed their parents. As Tim later recounted in a sworn affidavit: “I was shocked in ways words cannot describe.”

Up until that moment, the brothers insist, they had no idea their mother and father were undercover Russian “illegals” deployed by the KGB in the late 1980s, first to Canada, then to America—or that their parents’ real names were Elena Vavilova and Andrey Bezrukov. The sons had no clue, in other words, that their surname since birth was a fraud, swiped from a dead baby girl and passed on to them.

If the details read like an episode of The Americans, the Emmy-nominated FX television show, there’s good reason: the series, about a Soviet spy couple and the secrets they hide from their U.S.-born children, was inspired by the same FBI bust that exposed Tim and Alex’s mom and dad. But here is the true-life subplot you won’t see on TV: a years-long court battle over whether the kids should have to pay for their parents’ crimes with their Canadian citizenship.

Although both brothers were born in Toronto, immigration officials concluded (after the spy ring was revealed) that the boys were never Canadian to begin with because their mother and father were “employees of a foreign government,” making the kids ineligible for status under the Citizenship Act. In June, however, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled otherwise, ordering Ottawa to reinstate Alex’s citizenship (his case is furthest along) and propelling the bizarre saga back into the headlines. “[T]he sins of parents ought not to be visited upon children without clear authorization by law,” the judgment reads.

What happens next is in the hands of the Trudeau government, which has until Sept. 20 to decide whether to pursue an appeal at the Supreme Court. A spokeswoman for the federal immigration department would only say that officials are “carefully reviewing” the June ruling.

Like all the great espionage thrillers, there is one more twist: CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, has told Immigration that Tim, the eldest brother, did indeed know the truth about his parents’ double lives—and that he pledged to follow in their footsteps. According to CSIS, Tim had been “sworn in” by the SVR, the KGB’s post-Soviet successor, by the time the FBI showed up. (Tim adamantly denies the allegation, saying in his affidavit that “no evidence of my involvement has ever been presented.”)

…Though now the stuff of headlines, the brothers’ legal fight began quietly, when both tried to renew their Canadian passports. Because their surname (Foley) was now a confirmed fraud, Ottawa told them they would need to update their birth certificates. They complied, taking a version of their mother’s real last name: Vavilov. But when Tim and Alex reapplied for passports, they instead received letters from the registrar of citizenship, informing them they were no longer Canadian in the eyes of the law.

Technically, the feds did not revoke their citizenship. In Ottawa’s opinion, they were never citizens to begin with because each parent was working as a “representative or employee in Canada of a foreign government,” a rare exception to the birthright rule under section 3(2)(a) of the Citizenship Act.

Who fits that definition of “representative or employee” is the central issue of the brothers’ court challenges. Ottawa contends that the phrase means exactly what it says: any representative or employee of a foreign government, period. Tim and Alex argue that the clause is extremely specific and applies only to foreigners who enjoy diplomatic immunity—which their parents clearly did not, having operated deep in the shadows.

In 2015, a Federal Court judge agreed with the government’s plain reading of the law, ruling, in Alex’s case, that “the wording is clearly meant to cover individuals who are in Canada as agents of a foreign government, whatever their mandate.” In June, however, the Federal Court of Appeal reached the opposite conclusion: that only those with diplomatic immunity fall under the “employee of a foreign government” exception. Under that narrow interpretation, the court ruled in its 2-1 decision, Alex is clearly a citizen. Any other conclusion is “not supportable, defensible or acceptable,” the judgment reads.

As the Trudeau Liberals ponder one last appeal to the Supreme Court (again, the government has until Sept. 20 to seek leave), the stakes extend well beyond a granular point of law. Between the lines of all the legal briefs is a much larger debate being waged in the court of public opinion: who deserves citizenship—and who doesn’t? As the case plays out, after all, this same government is poised to restore citizenship to Zakaria Amara, a convicted, foreign-born terrorist who plotted to kill hundreds of fellow Canadians. For Amara to retain status while two Toronto-born brothers with no criminal records are denied it would present a striking, if not absurd, contrast.

Ottawa must consider something else, too: that one brother may not have been as oblivious as the other. Although it was Alex who won his case, the judgment, if left standing, would surely apply to Tim—who, according to CSIS, knew about his parents’ covert activities and had been “sworn in” by the SVR prior to their arrests. What CSIS revealed to immigration bureaucrats appears to be the first official confirmation of a bombshell Wall Street Journal report published in 2012, which claimed that Tim had agreed to return to his parents’ homeland to begin formal espionage training. During one conversation with his parents, the article claimed, the eldest son “stood up and saluted ‘Mother Russia.’ ”

As damning as the allegation may be, it has no real bearing on the specific issue at hand: the definition of “employee of a foreign government.” In other words, if the latest ruling is not overturned, the feds will have little choice but to recognize Tim’s citizenship and, like his little brother, let him come home—regardless of the suspicion swirling over his head. (If Canadian authorities then choose to launch a criminal investigation, that’s a whole different story. Either way, though, a Canadian citizen cannot be expelled.)

Which raises yet another question for Ottawa to ponder: should the government attempt to appeal Alex’s ruling solely because it would present the best possible chance of keeping Tim out of the country?

Source: The Russian spies who raised us

After St. Petersburg bombing, a notable absence: Russian anti-Islam backlash – CSMonitor.com

Interesting take:

Russia has been at war with Islamic enemies for over 500 years. Over the centuries, it fought long battles to subdue Tatars and other Muslim tribes who are now part of Russia. It also waged wars against the Persian and Turkish empires, incorporating many of their former territories into Imperial Russia.

Today, some of Russia’s most “troublesome” minorities are traditionally Muslim people with long histories of conflict with Russia, such as Chechens and Crimean Tatars. But so are some of its most successful and prosperous regions, especially Tatarstan, which has found its own formula for quelling internal Islamist extremism and co-existing, sometimes uneasily, with Moscow.

That’s one reason why most Russians don’t see Muslims as a faceless “other,” but are able to differentiate between different groups of them, says Alexey Malashenko, an Islam specialist with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

“We’ve been living among and, yes, sometimes fighting these people for hundreds of years. We know them,” he says. “The average Russian can tell the difference between a Chechen, a Tatar, an Uzbek, and a Tajik and, believe me, there are big differences. There is a great deal of xenophobia under the surface in Russia, and sometimes it comes out,” as it has in occasional urban race riots between Russians and migrant laborers – who are especially numerous in big cities like Moscow.

“But overt anti-Muslim political appeals, such as you do see in some Western countries, are absolutely impossible in Russia. Our authorities do not need or want the instability that could result from playing that card,” he says.

Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders have been very careful to separate Islam from terrorism, and to make that a frequent public message.

Two years ago Mr. Putin presided, alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, at the inauguration of the $170 million new Moscow Cathedral Mosque, a huge downtown temple that can accommodate 10,000 worshipers. With an eye both to Russia’s millions of Muslims and Russia’s growing role in the Middle East, he used the occasion to condemn Islamist extremism.

“We see what’s happening in the Middle East where terrorists of the so-called Islamic State discredit a great world religion, discredit Islam by sowing hate, killing people, and destroying the world’s cultural heritage in a barbaric way. Their ideology is built on lies, on open perversion of Islam. They are trying to recruit followers in our country as well,” he said.

The powerful Orthodox Church has also walked a cautious line. When Russia intervened in Syria almost two years ago, church officials hailed it in potentially inflammatory terms as a “holy war.” But the church, too, has been at pains to stress that it is a fight against “terrorism,” not Islam, and has repeatedly called for an alliance between moderate Christians and Muslims to combat extremism.

Familiar suspicions

Still, a more familiar Islamophobia bubbles not far beneath the surface. While Russia’s authoritarian political culture keeps it mostly bottled up for now, any survey of the country’s freewheeling social media will turn up plenty of small but clearly active groups who express the kind of militant anti-immigration, anti-foreigner, and anti-Muslim views that are familiar in the West.

“Potentially, any foreign citizen coming here is a threat,” says Valentina Bobrova, a leader of the National Conservative Movement, a small group in the central Russian city of Podolsk. “Islam … is an aggressive religion. We feel that it is attacking, trying to seize territories, minds, and souls in Russia, just as it is in Europe.”

And the story of Ilyas Nikitin, a Russian Muslim whose photograph was mistakenly circulated as a suspect in the St. Petersburg bombing, is a cautionary signal of how quickly grassroots suspicion and ill-will can erupt. Despite being cleared by police, he was subsequently forced off an airplane when terrified passengers complained, and arrived at his home in the west Siberian city of  Nizhnevartovsk to find he’d been fired from his job.

“You can’t say there is Islamophobia in Russia,” says Rais Suleymanov, an expert with the security services-linked Institute of National Strategy. “But when some act of terrorism is committed by radical Islamists, average people are quick to project all of their underlying fears onto that [Islamic] doctrine.”

Source: After St. Petersburg bombing, a notable absence: Russian anti-Islam backlash (+video) – CSMonitor.com

Russia Quietly Strips Emigres of Dual #Citizenship – Forward.com

Another example of the links between citizenship and identity, and how government changes affect the latter:

Tens of thousands of Russian dual nationals are being effectively stripped of their Russian citizenship via a quiet policy of Russian consulates worldwide refusing to renew their passports.

Under new regulations the consulates are enforcing, anyone seeking to renew a passport who was not registered as living in Russia on February 6, 1992, will be rejected, even if his or her passport had been renewed on previous occasions.

It is unclear just how many people this new policy will affect. But it will certainly apply to thousands of Jews who emigrated from Russia after July 1, 1991 — the date on which the Soviet Union, then in its final days, ended its policy of taking away the passports of Jews who left the country with exit visas to Israel. (The Soviet Union was formally dissolved on December 25, 1991.)

In Soviet times, the only way that Jews were allowed to leave the country was with their Russian passport confiscated — if they were allowed to leave at all. Many actually moved to the United States or to Europe once they got out, despite the Israeli stamp on their exit visa. But under the late Soviet policy, which was continued by the successor Russian government following the Soviet Union’s breakup, Jews could, for the first time, like others, become dual nationals. This allowed them to return freely to Russia to visit — or even move back if they changed their minds.

“I’ve always had two citizenships, two languages, two identities and two cultures. It’s who I am,” said Katya Rouzina, a 27-year-old college Russian instructor and graduate student who expects her Russian passport application will be rejected—as was this reporter’s—because she left Russia before February 1992. Like many Russian expatriates, Rouzina, who moved to the United States when she was 1-year-old, considers her continued tie to Russia a matter of identity. “They can’t just randomly say you’re not a Russian citizen anymore. That just makes me angry,” she said.

Like the United States, the Russian Federation allows for dual citizenship, though estimates of how many Russians have this status vary widely. Konstantin Romodanovsky, the director of Russia’s Federal Migration Service, told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that between 1 million and 6 million Russians have dual citizenship.

Asked about the new policy, which was never formally announced, the Russian Embassy in Washington confirmed the change, which it said was not a matter of any new law passed by the country’s legislature. “Our laws expand, they don’t change,” embassy press secretary Yury Melnik said. “The laws are interpreted better…. An expired passport isn’t considered a valid document.”

The Russian Consulate in New York City acknowledged that in the past, Russia had issued passports to people who had been expatriate citizens of the old Soviet Union, even if they had never registered as residents and citizens of the new Russian Federation, established after the Soviet Union’s breakup. It acknowledged having renewed their passports, as well.

“The people with such passports considered themselves citizens of the Russian Federation,” the consulate wrote in its email. “While we are aware that the persons holding such passports are not to be blamed for the existing situation, we must now, nonetheless, put things in order. We cannot issue passports to those whose Russian citizenship is not properly registered.”

The consulate suggested that those caught in this situation apply for a visa to visit Russia as American citizens instead. Michael Drob, director of a new documentary, “Stateless,” which tells the story of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union, said that not having a Russian passport would not only make travel to Russia more difficult, it might also prevent elderly people from receiving their Russian government pensions when they reach retirement age.

Moreover, he said, those caught up in this change, who came to America and became permanent residents but who never applied for citizenship, would now effectively be rendered stateless; so would those who came on more limited visas and stayed in America illegally.

The exact number of people who emigrated from Russia between July 1, 1991, when the Soviet-era passport confiscation policy for departing Jews ended, and February 6, 1992, could not be obtained. But it is clearly on the scale of tens of thousands.

Source: Russia Quietly Strips Emigres of Dual Citizenship – World – Forward.com

Diaspora Politics: Israel, Ukraine and Russia

More on diaspora politics and interests. I have not seen any coverage in Canadian media of tension between the US and Israel over Israel’s abstention on a UN resolution censuring Russia for its invasion of Crimea. Presumably the Canadian government would be equally annoyed as the Americans given its strong language against Russia and in favour of Ukraine. But then of course, this has to be “balanced” by the Canadian government’s strong support of Israel.

Always hard when there are such strong differences of opinion, both with respect to foreign relations as well as domestic diaspora politics.

Adding more fuel to the flames in Washington were public remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in which they maintained their “neutrality” and failed to back up the United States.

“We have good and trusting relations with the Americans and the Russians, and our experience has been very positive with both sides. So I don’t understand the idea that Israel has to get mired in this,” Lieberman told Israel’s Channel 9 television when asked about the Ukraine crisis.

When White House and State Department officials read these comments, they nearly went crazy. They were particularly incensed by Lieberman’s mentioning Israel’s relations with the United States and with Russia in the same breath, giving them equal weight. The United States gives Israel $3 billion a year in military aid, in addition to its constant diplomatic support in the UN and other international forums. Russia, on the other hand, supplies arms to Israel’s enemies and votes against it regularly in the UN.

U.S. officials angry: Israel doesn’t back stance on Russia – Haaretz.