Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Use of Russian Passports in Georgia Disturbs Other Post-Soviet States

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 9 – Even if Moscow does not employ again the strategy it used in Georgia of intervening militarily after extending dual citizenship and Russian passports to people in neighboring countries, that action has transformed the Russian passport into “something like a dangerous germ” whose spread can “lead to catastrophic consequences,” a Russian analyst says.
“The first time” the Russian passport “unexpectedly” took this form, Anton Orekh’ writes in today’s “Yezhednevniy zhurnal,” was in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Apparently “having landed there almost by chance, the passport began to multiply in these regions with such speed that it led to an epidemic or even pandemic” (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=8381).
After only a short time, he continues, “there did not remain in these places anyone who had not received this passport. Then the war began. And it turned out that the Russian passport [almost by itself and] in a surprising way made possible its development, escalation and intensification.”
Not surprisingly, many of the leaders of the countries neighboring Russia began to ask whether Moscow would use such a passport strategy against them. The Ukrainian foreign ministry, for example, has regularly warned that “in Crimea a general Russian passportization is gaining ground.”
For the time being, Orekh’ argues, Kyiv’s fears are without any foundation. The Kremlin has explicitly declared that it respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but especially given what has happened in Georgia and what has appeared in the Russian media, it is no surprise that officials there and elsewhere should be concerned.
After all, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that Russia has a right and an obligation to protect its citizens wherever they live – a statement that Orekh’ implies should not be taken literally given the constraints Moscow is operating under. And he adds that Russia would not attack Estonia because that would involve Russia in a war with NATO.
That of course is how all this looks from Moscow’s side, the Moscow writer says, but for those on whose territories Russian passports are spreading, “barricades are already being prepared” in response to what the Russian government is doing, something that heightens tensions and thus creates new dangers.
Both Russia’s use of passports in Georgia and Ukraine’s suggestions that Moscow is doing the same thing in Crimea have sparked a serious discussion not only about such passports themselves but about the implications of the dual citizenship for both the countries on which such people live and the countries to which they are thus linked.
In a commentary on the Babr.ru portal this week, Anna Mesherova considers the debate over whether “dual citizenship is a good thing or a bad one” and offers the perhaps unsatisfying conclusion that under some conditions, it is a good thing and draws nations together and under others, it pushes them apart (babr.ru/?pt=news&event=v1&IDE=47416).
Dual citizenship is not a universal right. Rather it is in every case up to now the product of interstate agreements, with some states agreeing and others not. Nonetheless, she writes, it is not all that rate. “What is rare is when the MAJORITY of citizens of a certain country or its region have the passport of a neighboring country.”
With Russia’s actions in Georgia, Moscow has invoked a principle which has not yet been accepted by the international community or even by the Russian government as a universal precedent has been created that suggests a country has the right to intervene in a territory on which “compactly live” its dual citizens.
Many countries, such as Ukraine, prohibit dual citizenship either in their constitutions or by law because their governments fear that the most dangerous situation would be to have a large number of people on their territories who sometimes could act as citizens of their country and sometimes as citizens of another.
And that danger only increases, Mesherova continues, when one country secretly or semi-secretly passes out passports as the Russians did in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and reportedly are doing so in Crimea as well despite the laws of the country in which Russian officials are acting in this way.

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