Staunton, December 29 – Because the Duma has given Vladimir Putin the power to offer accelerated Russian citizenship to immigrants, Circassians who have fled war-torn Syria to their historical homeland in the North Caucasus have called on the Kremlin leader to give them the same rights he has already given ethnic Ukrainians who have fled their war-torn country.
Putin is unlikely to do so because any additional return of Circassians to the North Caucasus could shift the ethnic balance there in ways unfavorable to Russian control, and he is likely to be justified in the eyes of many because the Circassians from Syria seldom know Russian while the Ukrainians who came fled to Russia typically do or soon learn it.
Nonetheless, the way in which the Circassians are invoking the ways Moscow has been treating Ukrainians is yet another indication of the ways in which the Russian government finds itself trapped: if it treats everyone the same, it creates problems for itself now; but if it treats groups differently, it creates other and potentially larger problems in time.
On December 25, the International Circassian Association appealed to Putin to include Circassians from Syria among the foreign groups having the right for obtaining Russian citizenship in an accelerated way. (Moscow first offered this right to Ukrainian residents who came to Russia in 2014.) (kommersant.ru/doc/3844097).
Ukrainians in Russia can now obtain Russian citizenship almost immediately without having to wait the five to seven years normally required. That gives them access to a variety of benefits, such as maternal capital and government jobs, those without such status do not have. The 2,000 Circassians from Syria in the North Caucasus want the same rights, the ICA says.
The Syrian Circassians are in an even worse plight than the Ukrainians because under Syrian law, their foreign passports have only a short period of validity; and those who carry them must return to Syria to renew them. That is expensive and difficult and those without valid passports become stateless, a category in Russia with even fewer rights.
A week before the ICA made its appeal, the Duma voted to give Putin the right to decide which categories of foreigners could be offered accelerated path to citizenship. (The arrangements for Ukrainians were made without such a legal foundation.) Putin has signed the law; and the ICA feels that the time has come for Moscow to give Circassians this opportunity.
Because the Russian government has not done so before, the number of Circassians in Syria seeking to return has fallen to a handful in recent months, leaving that community which arose following the Russian expulsion of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire in 1864 at increasing risk (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/329784/).
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