Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 212

With 318 votes in favor and none opposed, Russia’s Duma adopted in the third and final reading on November 13 a law on “The Russian Federation’s State Policy Regarding Compatriots Abroad.” This legislation targets the CIS and Baltic states. Apart from a number of declarative provisions, it mandates Russia’s executive branch to take specific actions in “supporting compatriots in the exercise of their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.” The prescriptions include:

–Russia’s economic cooperation with those states shall depend on their observance of the rights of Russia’s compatriots.

–Russia shall grant preferential treatment to companies in those states which employ a large number of Russian compatriots.

–Russia shall seek official status for the Russian language alongside the native language in those states.

–Residents of those states who were “deprived of Russian citizenship against their will” may reclaim it by applying to Russian authorities. (The “deprivation” apparently refers to the Baltic and most CIS states’ policy of barring dual citizenship. This provision appears designed to enable “compatriots” to acquire Russian citizenship in addition to the citizenship of their country of residence.)

–The Russian Federation shall “see to it that [compatriots] are evacuated or receive urgent humanitarian aid upon request in the event of a threat to their lives, health or personal safety, in consequence of natural calamities, mass unrest or military action.” (This stipulation evidently may be used to justify military intervention on humanitarian pretenses.)

The law describes as “compatriots” [of the Russian Federation] the following categories of residents of CIS and Baltic states: former or present citizens of the Russian Federation, holders of dual citizenship, stateless persons and former Soviet citizens with a common language and cultural heritage (Itar-Tass, BNS, November 13, 14).

The latter category would seem to represent an enlarged version of the “Russian-speaking population”–a concept designed to draw political capital from the linguistic russification of non-Russian ethnic communities in the former Union republics, now independent countries. That category alone–on top of the other three–expands almost indefinitely the range of groups declared eligible for the Russian Federation’s “protection” in foreign independent countries. The law fits neither of the existing international legal frameworks–that on the protection of national minorities and that on the protection of civil and political rights. Its primary purpose is to shape Russia’s foreign policy, reinforcing the tendency of the executive branch to conduct a more intrusive policy toward the CIS and Baltic states.