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Here’s how Putin’s new draft law would make it easier for the Russian authorities to grant and revoke citizenship

10 cards
  • What happened?
  • Can a person’s Russian citizenship really be revoked?
  • What are the proposed changes?
  • Will a person’s Russian citizenship be revoked automatically if they commit a crime? Is a conviction all it will take?
  • Will the existing grounds for revoking citizenship remain in place?
  • Do many foreign nationals acquire Russian citizenship?
  • How does the expedited citizenship process work?
  • Does this mean residents of Crimea could be deprived of Russian citizenship?
  • Will the process for obtaining Russian citizenship change too?
  • Will this law be adopted?
1

What happened?

President Vladimir Putin has submitted a new draft law “On citizenship of the Russian Federation” to the State Duma. If adopted, it will replace the existing law of the same name. Among other things, the bill expands both eligibility for an expedited citizenship procedure and the grounds for revoking Russian citizenship.

2

Can a person’s Russian citizenship really be revoked?

In fact, yes. This has been the case since 2017. Article six of the Russian Constitution directly prohibits depriving Russian nationals of citizenship, therefore, to circumvent this limitation, a procedure was invented for revoking decisions to grant citizenship. However, those who are citizens of the Russian Federation (or the Russian SFSR) by birth cannot be deprived of their citizenship. 

Currently, a decision granting citizenship can only be revoked due to the submission of forged documents or the provision of information known to be false during the citizenship process. Moreover, if a person has a criminal record, this is also considered the provision of information known to be false: the assumption is that the applicant lied about their readiness to comply with the legislation and constitution of the Russian Federation.

3

What are the proposed changes?

The commission of crime would be considered an independent basis for revoking someone’s Russian citizenship — without reference to the provision of information known to be false.

In addition, the list of crimes due to which a decision granting citizenship may be revoked is set to expand. However, this rule still won’t apply to those who are Russian citizens by birth. 

  • Acts of terrorism (Russian Criminal Code Article 205)
  • Contributing to terrorist activity (Article 205.1)
  • Public calls for committing terrorist activity, or public justification or promotion of terrorism committed through the use of the mass media or the Internet (Article 205.2, part 2)
  • Training for terrorist activities (Article 205.3)
  • Organization of and participation in a terrorist community (Article 205.4)
  • Organization of and participation in the activities of a terrorist organization (Article 205.5)
  • Hostage-taking (Article 206)
  • Organization of or participation in an illegal armed formation (Article 208)
  • Hijacking of an aircraft, watercraft, or railway train combined with a terrorist act (Article 211, part 4). 
  • Sabotage (Article 281)
  • Organization of an extremist community (Article 282.1)
  • Organization of the activities of an extremist organization (Article 282.2)
  • Financing extremist activities (Article 282.3)
  • International acts of terrorism (Article 361)

The list also includes the following articles associated with terrorist activities:

  • Encroachment on the life of a government or public figure (Article 277)
  • Violent seizure or retention of power (Article 278)
  • Armed rebellion (Article 279)
  • Assaults on persons or institutions enjoying international protection (Article 360)

The following articles of the Russian Criminal Code would be added to the existing list:

  • Banditry (Article 209)
  • Organization of or participation in a criminal organization (Article 210)
  • Occupying the highest position in a criminal hierarchy (Article 210.1)
  • Organization of mass riots (Article 212, part 1)
  • Illegal acquisition and storage of narcotics on a large and especially large scale (Article 228, parts 2 and 3)
  • Illegal production and sale of narcotics on a significant, large, and especially large scale (Article 228.1, parts 3–5)
  • Theft or solicitation of narcotics on a significant, large, and especially large scale (Article 229 parts 2–4)
  • Smuggling narcotics on a significant, large, and especially large scale (Article 229.1 parts 2–4)
  • Inducement to drug use, committed using the Internet or entailing the death of one or more victims (Article 230, parts 2–4)
  • High treason (Article 276)
  • Espionage (Article 275)
  • Disclosure of state secrets (Article 283)
4

Will a person’s Russian citizenship be revoked automatically if they commit a crime? Is a conviction all it will take?

No. The court of first instance will send a copy of the final judgment to the Russian Interior Ministry. But the decision on revoking citizenship will be left up to the government body that granted Russian citizenship to the individual in the first place. If citizenship was granted by the Interior Ministry or the Foreign Affairs Ministry, then the Russian president will have to sanction their decision. It’s not clear how this process will work.

5

Will the existing grounds for revoking citizenship remain in place?

Yes. A person could still lose their citizenship on the grounds that they submitted forged documents or provided information known to be false during the citizenship process. But only if it’s been less than 10 years since they were granted citizenship. This statute of limitations does not, however, apply to those convicted of crimes. In this case, the offender can be deprived of Russian citizenship regardless of how long they’ve been a naturalized citizen.

6

Do many foreign nationals acquire Russian citizenship?

Yes. The explanatory note to the presidential draft law says that more than 7.3 million people have been granted Russian citizenship since 2002. In September 2021, the head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Directorate for Migration Affairs, Police Lieutenant General Valentina Kazakova, explained that currently “around 50 percent” of those seeking Russian citizenship are inhabitants of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine.

Inhabitants of Ukraine’s Donbas region have been able to acquire Russian citizenship through an expedited procedure since 2019, thanks to a corresponding decree signed by Putin. According to the Russian Interior Ministry’s statistics, immigrants from Ukraine made up 83,000 or the 269,000 people who received Russian citizenship in 2018; in 2019, this number jumped to 299,000 out of a total of 497,000 people. And in 2020, it increased to 409,000 out of 656,000 people.

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Thanks to Putin, Donbas residents now have an expedited path toward Russian citizenship. What could go wrong?

7

How does the expedited citizenship process work?

It reduces the requirements for some foreign nationals seeking Russian citizenship. Among other things, they don’t have to obtain a residence permit and then reside permanently in Russia for five years. This simplified procedure applies to specific categories of people laid out in the draft law.

That said, the Russian president would be able to expand this list. The draft law gives him the right to establish an expedited citizenship process for separate categories of people not only for humanitarian purposes (as was the case with the inhabitants of Ukraine’s Donbas) but also for “other purposes.”

The draft law, for example, extends the simplified procedure to children who were deprived of their Russian citizenship by decision of their parents or guardians. However, applicants looking to get back their Russian citizenship must be between the ages of 18 and 22 years old to be eligible for the expedited process. 

8

Does this mean residents of Crimea could be deprived of Russian citizenship?

We don’t know for sure, but most likely not. After Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the peninsula’s inhabitants were automatically given Russian citizenship in accordance with an agreement between the Russian Federation and the self-proclaimed Republic of Crimea — they didn’t have to go through the citizenship process or take an oath of citizenship. And since inhabitants of Crimea didn’t acquire citizenship individually, they also can’t be deprived of it due to the commission of a crime. 

9

Will the process for obtaining Russian citizenship change too?

Yes. Since the law on citizenship has been completely rewritten, there will be certain changes for many categories of foreign nationals. For example, in order to obtain Russian citizenship applicants will have to not only speak Russian, but also have knowledge of Russia’s history and fundamental laws.

People with category I disabilities, people over the age of 70, and foreign nationals acquiring citizenship through the expedited procedure will not have to confirm their knowledge of Russian language, history, and law.

10

Will this law be adopted?

In all likelihood, yes. As a rule, the Russian State Duma doesn’t reject presidential bills. If parliament adopts the document and the president signs it into law, it will enter force within 180 days of its official publication.

In theory, however, State Duma lawmakers could introduce amendments to the law that would be unacceptable to the head of state, in which case Putin might veto it. For example, lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein has already suggested expanding the procedure for revoking citizenship to Russians who are citizens by birthright. State Duma lawmakers tried to push through a similar proposal several years ago, but it was axed at the last minute.

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Explainer by Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Eilish Hart