DEBATE OVER PASSPORTS

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DEBATE OVER PASSPORTS

Trud-7, April 25, 2002, p. 2

The Duma has given the third and final reading to a new law regulating the naturalization process in Russia. Overall, it is aimed at toughening requirements for applicants and complicating this procedure, according to most analysts.

Within the past decade, about 4.5 million people have become Russian citizens, while about 180,000 have been forced to reject Russian citizenship, as the legislation of some former Soviet republics (for example, the Baltic states) does not permit dual citizenship, so the people had to choose.

By the way, the new Russian law on citizenship does not impose a similar harsh alternative for Russian citizens who have passports from other countries. However, those aspiring to Russian citizenship will in future have only one passport. For a start, they also have to submit documents to confirm they have been living on Russian territory “continuously” for five years since receiving a residency permit. In this context, “continuously” means not leaving the country for longer than three months a year. Besides, they will need to have a “legal source of income” and speak Russian. It is proposed to introduce some clear standards for the level of language skills, and enshrine them in a “special provision” which will be submitted for the president to sign.

The Duma passed the new law “On Russian citizenship” by a majority. The Yabloko faction and the Union of Right Forces voted against it; so did many of the Communists. In all, 154 members of the Duma voted against this bill. Deputy Yabloko faction leader Sergei Mitrokhin told us about the reasons for the controversy.

Mitrokhin: “In our view, this law does not take into account the interests of our compatriots, former Soviet citizens – who are actually being made equal in rights with people from Asia or Africa. Besides, it is economically disadvantageous for Russia. The residency requirement creates a great problem for ethnic Russians in CIS countries, who might potentially be Russian citizens and who number up to 25 million. Few of them have a residency permit, and it requires another three years to get it. All this makes them second-rate in Russia, even though this country has a labor shortage and a demographic crisis, and many villages have barely a dozen residents. Isn’t this a problem? The death rate in Russia is still ahead of the birth rate, and there is no reason as yet to believe that the situation will change soon. There is no doubt that the problem of increasing the population and attracting workers to such thinly populated regions as Siberia and the Far East cannot be solved through a rising birth rate; only by migration of ethnic Russians from Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Otherwise, in 30-40 years these regions will be de facto developed by China.”

RUSSIAN MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT QUARREL IN STRASBOURG

Izvestia, April 25, 2002, p. 3

“Russia made a mistake by entering the Council of Europe.” Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Duma international affairs committee, said this yesterday at a news conference in Strasbourg. In other words, we should have taken into account the demands of this human rights group – calmly, without haste – but not turned into whipping boys for representatives of the Netherlands or Lithuania.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) discussed Russian issues practically all day yesterday: Moscow’s observance of its commitments to the Council of Europe, and the law on religion in Russia. Both topics aroused stormy debates and demanded a lot of nerve from our members of parliament. As for the head of the Russian delegation, he questioned the advisability of Russia remaining a participant in the PACE.

“I totally disagree with the point of view of Rogozin,” said Mikhail Margelov, head of the Federation Council international affairs committee. “I believe Russia did the correct and far-sighted thing by joining the PACE. It’s a different matter entirely that this membership was not used effectively enough under President Yeltsin. Now, under President Putin, our foreign policy is clearly articulated, pragmatic, and aimed at cooperation with the outside world. The president’s address to the Federal Assembly said this – that we ought to develop relations with NATO, the US, the European Union, and other European structures. Therefore, our membership of the PACE is justified.”

Yabloko faction member Alexander Shilov was also criticized by Margelov. “If Shilov does not like the domestic policies of Russia, he may give up his Duma seat, official car, and his Russian passport into the bargain. We do not criticize the policy of our government.”

What did Shilov say that was so frightful? There was a discussion of the report of the committee intended to monitor Russia’s implementation of its commitments to the Council of Europe. Alexander Shilov made a speech. In his view, the situation within Russia cannot be called anything other than creating an “imitation democracy” system. The operation of many democratic institutions in Russia is nothing but a mockery. The matter concerns laws being broken during regional elections, pressure on journalists who are inconvenient for the government, and abuses in the court system.

FIVE PRESIDENTS REFUSE TO SHARE THE CASPIAN SEA

Izvestia, April 25, 2002, p. 2

The first summit of Caspian states closed yesterday in Ashkhabad. It finished with a scandal: the presidents of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan refused to sign a joint declaration on the results of the meeting. The status of the Caspian Sea will remain unresolved for a long time, as its resources are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Oddly enough, the summit failure is advantageous for Russia. Russia will remain the chief transit exporter of Caspian oil until the five states of the region can agree on dividing the Caspian Sea. The two main oil pipelines in the region run across Russian territory: Baku-Novorossisk from Azerbaijan, and Tengiz-Novorossisk from Kazakhstan. To be sure, no one will build other large pipelines here until the sea has been divided. Besides, Russia is the heir of the USSR, and there are only two legal masters of the Caspian Sea at present – Iran and the Soviet Union. Moreover, another curious detail was revealed: there is not as much oil in the Caspian as had been believed, so the status of the sea may never be determined.

The Caspian Sea itself was the main cause of the summit’s failure – exploration showed that commercial oil reserves in its southern part were far less than in the northern part, hence there is less incentive to determine the status.

Overall, the summit was admitted to be a historic event. For the first time, the president of Russia met the president of Iran; but the Caspian Sea remains as it was. Scientists used to state confidently that the water level in the Caspian was declining, dangerously. Meanwhile, it has only become deeper. The waters of diplomatic negotiations on the status of the sea are just as deep.

NEW MILITARY PAY SCALES APPROVED

Rossiiskaya Gazeta, April 25, 2002, p. 1

Yesterday the Federation Council approved reforms to the system of military remuneration. The reforms will ensure that pay scales in the military are no lower than those for positions at equal levels in the civil service. New military pay scales will be introduced for officers from July 1, 2002; remuneration for soldiers will be changed from January 1, 2003.

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