Staunton, June 10 – In its effort to maintain and tighten control over those it sees as its domestic enemies, the Putin regime is moving step by step to violate the provisions of the Russian constitution in ways that may seem almost anodyne but in fact have far-reaching consequences, Vladimir Pastukhov says.
In a Novaya Gazeta column published yesterday, the St. Antony’s College scholar says that the new imposing penalties on Russians who do not declare that they have dual citizenship is a considerably greater threat to their rights than it may appear at first glance to Russians or others concerned about constitutional liberties.
Among these threats is the fact that the law creates a class of people who are treated differently on the basis of some “accidental and external sign.” That is “a serious and, one can say, historic choice in favor of the renewal of the [Soviet] practice of issuing class-based laws, the goal of which was repression toward particular social strata or groups of the population.”
That may not seem obvious because the law stresses the need to make declarations about dual citizenship rather than the rights of those Russian citizens who have permission from other countries to live there, Pastukhov says. But he adds that these are ‘two big differences’” and need to be examined closely.
A residency permit, unlike dual citizenship, “does not create any political rights for those who have such permission and does not impose on them any political obligations.” Consequently, “there is no constitutional-legal collision” between the status of a Russian citizen in Russia and the status of a Russian citizen who has permission to live in another country.
Because the new Putin law treats the two things as equivalent, it “violates the principle of the equality of all citizens before the law” as declared by Article 19 of the Russian Constitution by defining as subject to special treatment members of an entire group rather than individuals who may have violated the law.
But that is not the only constitutional problem with the new law, Pastukhov says. It says such people must register their dual citizenship or residence permits within 60 days of the new law going into effect and that they can do so only on the territory of the Russian Federation and not at an embassy or consulate abroad.
If enforced, that provision will require many to make an unplanned and possibly expensive return visit to the Russian Federation to do so.
Those constitutional violations are serious enough, the St. Antony’s College scholar says, but the new law reflects an even more dangerous trend toward the restoration of Soviet-style restrictions on the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens and as such is “cancerogenic” and threatens to “metasticize.”
Pastukhov points out that no long ago, information became public about an individual who was denied the right to take part in a judicial selection “only on the basis that the aspirant had relatives who constantly live beyond the borders of Russia,” a restriction that recalls Soviet limitations on those with relatives abroad or who themselves had lived in occupied territories.
Such things, he continues, make the new law part of the kind of laws “so popular both in Europe and in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century about the limitation of the rights of class alien elements or about the limitation of the rights of national minorities.”
Some observers have suggested that the new law is the first step toward restoring the Soviet practice of requiring that citizens get exit visas. That may be so, but Pastukhov says that he does not see a direct connection between this legislation and “the intention of the state to close the borders,” at least not yet.
Rather, he suggests, it “bears a fiscal-repressive” quality toward “a social group which the ruling regime considers as politically unfavorable,” those who want to use their foreign residence to escape Russian taxes on the sale of their residences in Russia. Given Moscow’s problems with budget shortfalls, that is clearly a goal.
“But this, of course, is not the most important thing,” Pastukhov continues. That is the impact of the law on the Russian middle class “which is drawn to Western liberal values” and is viewed by the regime as “culturally alien” and “also on the fifth column, but not the one about which everyone speaks but about its members in the ranks” of the regime itself.
According to the Oxford researcher, the Kremlin wants to force employees of the regime to get rid of their foreign properties by creating a new source of threat to themselves lest they become affected by Western values and even think about opposing the top leadership. Such a move is entirely consistent with Putin’s current “mobilizational model.”
Because the new law is so patently unconstitutional, the Russian courts should quickly declare it null and void, but they are unlikely to do so, Pastukhov says. As a result, “nothing remains” to those with permission to work and live beyond the borders of Russia “except to don a yellow star of the hero of the new Russia and wear it proudly.”