Sat, May 11, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Russia renewing passport expansionism efforts

By Agnia Grigas

On April 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered that passports be made available to people in the areas of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

The Kremlin claims this was a purely humanitarian gesture, but it is actually part of a long-term strategy to consolidate control over eastern Ukraine — and, judging by Russia’s announcement that it is considering creating a “simplified citizenship procedure” for all Ukrainians, potentially beyond.

Russia has long used citizenship and passports to enlarge its reach.

As I describe in my book Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire, the process generally begins with the promotion of soft power and humanitarian engagement. It then progresses to compatriot policies, aimed at consolidating and “Russifying” Russian speakers abroad, and information warfare.

“Passportization” is the fifth step in this process, followed by protection and, finally, annexation of territory.

Whereas most nations use their consular facilities to attract tourism, promote cultural or educational exchanges and manage economic migration, Russia has used them to advance its security interests and territorial ambitions.

Since the early 1990s, Russia has sought to establish dual citizenship for the Russian diaspora in former Soviet states, while “passportizing” particular regions outside its borders populated by Russian-speakers, often in defiance of those nations’ laws and international norms.

After Russia’s 2002 citizenship law made it easier for any citizen of the former Soviet Union to acquire Russian citizenship, the Kremlin launched a campaign to hand out Russian passports in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

The Russian consulate in Simferopol aggressively issued Russian passports in Crimea in the years leading up to the 2014 annexation of the peninsula.

Supporting this mission, the Congress of Russian Communities, a public political organization, spearheaded the passportization process in Abkhazia since 2002 and acted as a leading pro-Russia force in Crimea prior to 2014.

By reinforcing feelings of alienation and separatism, passportization paved the way for Russia to secure “de facto” control of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea and Moldova’s Transnistria region.

However, Russia continues to insist — using the modern language of human rights — that its passportization activities are intended to protect those in need.

As far back as the 19th century, Russian czars asserted their right to protect Orthodox citizens residing in the Ottoman Empire — a policy that contributed significantly to the Balkan Wars of that period.

Since the 1990s, Russian laws and doctrines have focused on “protecting” needy Russians, Russian-speaking minorities and their “compatriots” — a vague, but frequently cited category — within and outside the borders of the Russian Federation.

During the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev — discussing Ossetians and Abkhazians, who had been given Russian passports — said that “protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country.”

Russia’s use of military force in South Ossetia was also justified as defense of “the dignity and honor of the Russian citizens.”

Similarly, in 2014, Putin said: “We shall always protect the ethnic Russians in Ukraine, as well as that part of Ukraine’s population that feels inseparably linked with Russia ethnically, culturally and linguistically, that feels to be a part of the broader Russkiy Mir.”

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