MOSCOW (Reuters) - Parliament approved legislation on Tuesday requiring Russians to declare dual citizenship or face criminal prosecution after President Vladimir Putin endorsed the measure as part of a more nationalist course taken since his annexation of Crimea.
Adopted in the crucial second of three readings in the lower house, the bill will impose a fine of up to 200,000 rubles ($5,800) or 400 hours of community service on Russians who have citizenship in another country and fail to tell the authorities.
Critics said the law would place people with two passports under suspicion and expressed fear its aim was to whip up nationalist fervor by hinting dissenters are in the service of foreign governments.
Putin, who has often accused Western governments of meddling in Russia’s affairs, supported the idea in March by hinting at alleged divided allegiances among dual citizens, saying: “We have every right to know who lives in Russia and what they do.”
The bill was submitted by Andrei Lugovoi, a nationalist lawmaker and former KGB officer. “Obviously having dual citizenship reduces the significance of Russian nationality and respect for one’s country,” he said on the sidelines of the vote in parliament on Tuesday, according to Russian news agencies.
“This is particularly important in light of recent geopolitical events, when Russia continues to come under aggressive pressure from the West,” he was quoted as saying.
The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on officials, lawmakers and companies close to Putin to punish him for the annexation of Crimea and what Western governments say is support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The disagreement over Ukraine has brought relations between Russia and the West to a post-Cold War low.
The bill was supported by 429 deputies in the 450-seat State Duma lower house, with only three votes against. With the Kremlin’s backing, it is virtually guaranteed passage in a third reading in the State Duma and a vote in the upper house.
The law includes an exemption for Russians with dual citizenship who live abroad and for residents of Crimea, where Russia is busily issuing passports.
Svetlana Gannushkina, a prominent Russia campaigners for refugee and migrant rights, said the legislation would put people with dual citizenship “under suspicion” and expose them to pressure from the authorities.
“It will prompt people to hide their second citizenship in order to minimize their relations with the state,” she said.
There is no official data available on the number of Russian citizens who also hold foreign passports.
Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Steve Gutterman/Mark Heinrich