Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘Dual Citizenship as a Chance for Russia to Do Away with Ukraine’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 6 – A proposal to allow dual citizenship in Ukraine has sparked a sharp debate between those who believe that Ukrainian residents should have that right and those who argue that such a step would threaten Ukraine’s existence by creating a large class of people who could sometimes act as its citizens and sometimes as those of another country.

            At the end of February, Lev Mirimsky, a deputy in the Verkhovna Rada, proposed legislation that would allow Ukrainians to retain their national passport even if they obtained citizenship in another country, something the country’s constitution currently prohibits (

            Were the Ukrainian deputies to approve this measure, they would then have to see the amendment of the constitution for its provisions to take effect, something that seems unlikely because of widespread opposition among Ukrainian officials who clearly understand what is at stake.

            Were Ukraine a country with a completely stable political system and an integral national identity, allowing dual citizenship would not be an option that many of its citizens would choose, and consequently, allowing for that choice would not constitute a potentially dangerous threat to the state.

            But Ukraine is not currently stable and does not yet have an integral national identity. Instead, there are many of its citizens, primarily but not exclusively ethnic Russians, who would like Ukraine to be re-united with the Russian Federation and whose possession of Russian citizenship would in the words of one give “Russia a chance to do away with Ukraine.”

            That threat is not always recognized in the West in the case of Ukraine or other countries in the region with a significant minority of people who would like to be both citizens of those countries and citizens of the Russian Federation, an arrangement that might help them but could be used against those countries.

            As in Ukraine, the authorities recognize that the status of their countries is better guaranteed if dual citizenship is not allowed even if that arrangement means that some of their residents will choose to be citizens of the Russian Federation rather than citizens of the country in which they live.

            If some people in these countries do choose Russian citizenship but cannot then be citizens of their country of residence, they cannot act within the political system where they live on some occasions and in the interests of another country on others, the worst possible consequence for countries whose independence not everyone considers irreversible.

            In Ukraine, Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhar has already spoken out against the idea of allowing dual citizenship.  He says that in his view, such a possibility “would create problems both for the [Ukrainian] state and for those who might have dual citizenship. 

            A survey of experts and politicians in Ukraine found a rare unanimity on this point, with all of them suggesting that “Ukraine is not ready for the legalization of dual citizenship” because “that would require legislative changes … would create a number of problems for the state,” and most importantly “could create a threat to the integrity of Ukraine.”

            “Sooner or later,” however, at least some Russian experts believe that Ukraine will allow dual citizenship.  Vladimir Kornilov, the director of the Ukrainian branch of the Institute of CIS Countries, says that Kyiv will ultimately want to follow what he called “the generally accepted international practice” of allowing such an arrangement.

            Kornilov said that people are often opposed to dual citizenship because they assume that anyone who has one will be “less loyal” to the country where he or she lives.  “But,” he says, such “questions are easily resolvable by bilateral agreements on the basis of the UN Convention on Citizenship.

            He thus implies as Russian officials routinely have since 1991 that that convention or other UN documents say that everyone has the right to dual citizenship, something they in fact do not do. There is thus no generally recognized “right” to dual citizenship in international law; provision for it arises in every case by a treaty among the countries wishing to offer it.

            Alesandr Paliy, a Ukrainian political analyst, said that “the legalization in Ukraine of dual citizenship could inflict serious harm on the state,” given that “the national identity of Ukrainians is only in the process of formation” and “considering that Ukraine is situated between Russia and the European Union.”

            Moreover, he continued, Ukrainians have had the opportunity to see the baleful consequences of the introduction of dual citizenship arrangements in neighboring Moldova, “which has split in two parts” and in Georgia, “where an armed conflict arose.” Ukraine cannot afford to risk either.

            Other Ukrainian observers suggested that the proposal for introducing dual citizenship was more a political stunt than a practical proposal with any serious chance of being adopted.  Among those with that view were Vladimir Gorbach of the Institute of Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Andrey Shevchenko, head of the human rights committee of the Verhovna Rada, and Lesya Orobets, a member of the parliament’s foreign relations committee.

            Another Verhovna Rada, Vitor Chumak, put the matter in the starkest terms: “Legalizing dual citizenship is dangerous for Ukraine as it would be for any state which has problems with its neighbors.” Were it to allow that status, Ukraine would have “enormous problems” in dealing with members of minority groups who might elect to adopt dual citizenship.

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