MOSCOW : Russia on Friday introduced legislation that makes failing to declare dual citizenship or foreign residency a crime punishable by fines or community service. The legislation is the latest to target those who have ties to other countries, after Russia also forced political NGOs that receive funding from abroad to register as ‘foreign agents.’ Under the new law, Russians are obliged to inform the federal migration service within two months after they obtain citizenship or residency of another country or face being fined up to 200,000 rubles ($5,773), or doing up to 400 hours of community service.
Officials said the law was needed because people with dual citizenship have divided loyalties. ‘If a person is hiding this for some reason, then the question arises, what is he hiding?’ the deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, Sergei Neverov said, quoted by Interfax news agency.
‘After all when a person gets citizenship , he gains not only rights but also responsibilities to the country whose citizen he has become,’ Neverov added. President Vladimir Putin backed the measure, saying in March: ‘We absolutely should know and have the right to know who lives in Russia and what they are doing.’
The law can be used as grounds to question the loyalty of people who criticise the authorities, analysts said. ‘The fact that a person has a second passport in no way means he is an enemy of the people but if necessary this can be used as compromising information against him, for example if he criticises the authorities,’ said independent political analyst Alexander Morozov.
‘Such laws are passed ‘just in case’ but they already create an atmosphere of self-censorship and fear in society,’ Morozov told AFP. Russian state media pointedly refer to the fact that veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva holds US citizenship - which she acquired it after being forced to emigrate by the Soviets over her dissident activities.
The legislation does not apply to Russians who ‘permanently’ live abroad. Those who already have dual citizenship when it comes into force are given two months to declare it. An exception is made for those living in Crimea who were given Russian passports after Russia annexed the peninsula. They do not have to register dual citizenship until 2016.