The following is a guest post from American University historian Eric Lohr, the author of Russian Citizenship: From Empire to Soviet Union (Harvard University Press, 2012).  In it, he asks whether the handing out of passports to Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine suggests that Putin has a long-term plan in Crimea, and perhaps more broadly in Ukraine. Links to previous Monkey Cage posts regarding developments in Ukraine can be found at the bottom of this post.

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With Russia now occupying Crimea, a key indicator of Russian intentions there and in other parts of Ukraine may be whether it bestows Russian citizenship on Russian-speakers living on Ukrainian territory.

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According to existing Russian law and generally accepted international practice, citizenship is normally granted only to individuals residing within the country. However, the Russian Federation has waived the normal residence requirements and waiting periods before to naturalize populations outside its borders. In the Georgian territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia allowed thousands of natives of the region to naturalize by expedited procedures during a controversial naturalization drive in the summer of 2002 and sporadically afterwards, then expanded this program during and after the war. According to the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, this provided a justification for intervention (to protect “Russian citizens”) and a legal means to meld the regions into the Russian sphere after Russia recognized the two areas as independent states (a recognition that the rest of the world has not endorsed).

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Although evidence is contradictory and scarce, there are indications that naturalizations are already underway. Just last week a bill was introduced in the Russian State Duma to create a simplified procedure for “Russian-speaking citizens of the former USSR, irrespective of nationality, who are in danger of a real threat of ethno-cultural, political, or professional discrimination” to acquire Russian citizenship.

Several reports claim that the Russian consulate in Crimea has been offering expedited Russian citizenship to members of the disbanded Ukrainian special police force (the Berkut). The Russian Consul General in Simferopol, Viacheslav Svetlichnyi, has been quoted as saying that Russian passports may be offered to other Ukrainian citizens apart from Berkut members, but decisions will be made “in stages.”

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The Russian Ministry of Interior has indicated that it is ready to hire Ukrainian police officers who left their jobs or were fired and grant them citizenship. The Ukrainian Minister of the Interior has claimed that Russian emissaries and military personnel throughout Crimea are offering members of the Crimean officer corps Russian passports in an expedited procedure.

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Ukrainian officials are taking these actions very seriously. The Supreme Rada is planning to consider a law to make dual citizenship a criminal offense punishable by up to three to 10 years in jail for individuals who fail to inform the authorities of their acquisition of foreign citizenship.

This evidence points toward a Russian intention to make its new role in Crimea permanent. That the measures extend to former police and are not restricted to the territory of Crimea suggests a more ambitious set of goals.

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Note: This post was updated to reflect the fact that the bill proposed to the Rada would make failing to inform the authorities of acquisition of dual citizenship a punishable crime, not the act of acquiring dual citizenship itself. h/t to @tanyalokot.

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Previous posts on the recent events in Ukraine at The Monkey Cage:

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