20 years under Putin: a timeline

Having dealt with street rallies, NGOs, “spies,” and orphans, the Russian Duma has turned its attention to journalists. A new bill being drafted in the lower house (dubbed the “Pozner bill”) would ban Russians who hold citizenships of other countries from working on state-owned or state-supported television channels. According to author and analyst Alexander Podrabinek, the new initiative not only represents a cheap propagandistic stunt, but also demonstrates the hypocrisy of the current regime.



The Russian state machinery under Vladimir Putin has gone wild. It appears that no one knows how to stop it and make government institutions resume a normal rhythm of work. With Putin’s return to the Kremlin, “the horse has bolted.” Since last May, departments and agencies, the legislative and the executive branches not only ignore the Constitution and international law when taking decisions, but also abandon common sense and simple rules of morality. One need only cite the recent legislative initiative condemning Russian orphans to homelessness that was taken in response to the U.S. efforts to fight corruption in Russia.

Anti-Americanism has become the keynote of the State Duma’s mindless lawmaking. Like members of a choir, after taking their designated places, the lawmakers scrupulously sing their xenophobic parts under the baton of Vladimir Putin. Some in this choir bellow about the harmful influence of the West, others chant for a holy war against the values of Western democracy, and the Duma grinds out laws imbued with a chauvinistic and anti-American spirit, which, obedient to the conductor’s lead, it sees as its main task.

Last summer, the State Duma passed amendments to the law on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), according to which those NGOs that receive funding from abroad must be registered with the Ministry of Justice as “foreign agents.” In this way everyone will know who in Russia has Western partners in the sphere of humanitarian cooperation. While this does not constitute a criminal indictment, it does attach a stigma.

In keeping with the general hostility to all things foreign, the Duma has expanded the definition of, and increased the criminal penalties for, “high treason” and “espionage.” Protecting the state from the machinations of traitors and spies was so important that even deputies who are considered to be part of the opposition and are members of its Coordinating Council have voted for these amendments.

The law banning civil servants from owning property abroad was also in keeping with the fight against the harmful influence of the West. However, the lawmakers left so many loopholes that officials will be able to circumvent this limitation.

The Duma members became so inspired that in addition to singing the Putin songs, they began composing bills themselves – but, of course, in the same anti-foreign key. United Russia deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov suggested obligating the mass media to specify any sources of foreign financing. At the time, such a law seemed superfluous, but now something similar has come up again in that house of ill fame in Moscow known as the State Duma.

The deputies equate respect for the country with respect for the State Duma, all the members of which have obtained their seats through election fraud, in effect, stealing them from the people.

Lawmakers are completing work on the so-called “Pozner bill.” This is the unofficial name for the bill prompted by a remark by television anchor Vladimir Pozner, who called the State Duma “state dura” (i.e. “state fool”) when commenting on the recently adopted anti-orphan law. He apologized right away for this slip of the tongue, but it is unlikely that anyone believed his apology. It was evident that this “slip of the tongue” was not accidental. Pozner, as a journalist, has always been loyal to the state authorities even under the Soviet regime. Occasionally he allows himself to take pot shots against the government, but always within certain bounds. But in these xenophobic times, he has a serious vulnerability: along with his Russian citizenship, he also holds French and American passports. The deputies used this as a pretext and named their new bill after the harmless, state-employed journalist.

At the end of December, the representatives of all Duma party caucuses expressed their indignation with Pozner’s “scandalous statement” on Channel One. In their letter, deputies Andrei Lugovoi (the Liberal Democratic Party), Mikhail Starshinov (United Russia), Oleg Denisenko (the Communist Party) and Igor Zotov (A Just Russia) declared that the time has come to decide whether foreign citizens, who make remarks that discredit Russia and its government, should be permitted to work for state-owned or state-supported television channels. “Quite recently, in one of your reports, you said that members of the State Duma are the laughing stock of the country. You called the nation’s highest legislative body a “fool.” And though you pretended that this was a slip of the tongue, the content and the tone of your declarations make us doubt the sincerity of this explanation,” the letter reads. “In the near future, we will be introducing an appropriate bill in the Duma. And you, Mr. Pozner, will have time to find a job with your American or French colleagues, since you show so little respect for our country,” conclude the deputies.

Pozner made no reply, and this has probably infuriated lawmakers more than anything else. It certainly angered Mikhail Starshinov, first deputy chairman of the Duma committee on nationalities, a member of the United Russia caucus, and one of the authors of the letter. He told Interfax: “Almost two weeks have passed since the incident, but instead of apologizing and acknowledging his mistake, which would be a natural reaction, Pozner is making weird declarations and almost celebrating ‘victory’ over the deputies.” Starshinov made it clear that the bill’s main objective is to “ban individuals with foreign citizenship who systematically insult Russia and its government from working for the state-owned mass media.”

This bill is in the spirit of the times. With their unsophisticated arrogance, the deputies equate respect for the country with respect for the State Duma, all the members of which have obtained their seats through election fraud, in effect, stealing them from the people.

It is hard to predict the chances of this bill becoming law. But, regardless of whether it is adopted or rejected, the trend of denying individuals with dual citizenship their rights has a long history in post-Soviet Russia.

In November 1996, the then-democratically minded Izvestia newspaper (whose editor-in-chief was the liberal Igor Golembiovsky) accused Boris Berezovsky, deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, of having dual Russian-Israeli citizenship. This was later documented. Although the law at the time did not prohibit civil servants from having dual citizenship, the matter was blown out of proportion. Surprisingly, Berezovsky was even criticized for having dual citizenship by the liberals. It was not surprising that Communist Duma deputies Viktor Ilyukhin, Oleg Mironov, and Vladimir Semago introduced a bill, according to which “persons with no citizenship, persons with dual citizenship, citizens and former citizens of foreign countries are not permitted to work” in the Security Council.

In 2004, the Law on the Civil Service of the Russian Federation prohibited the hiring of Russians into the civil service if they also held another country’s citizenship.


Dual citizenship has not prevented Arnold Schwarzenegger (left) from fulfilling his duties as governor of California, or John Turner from serving as prime minister of Canada.


In 2006, legislators and legislative candidates at all levels, including the State Duma, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and local mayors, members of the government, the Security Council and the Accounts Chamber were prohibited from having dual citizenship or even a foreign residence permit.

In 2007, on the basis of this law, journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., who has dual Russian-British citizenship, was denied registration as a candidate for the Moscow Regional Duma. He challenged this denial, but his challenge was rejected at all levels of the judicial system until it reached the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation. This was the only court that did not dare to consider Kara-Murza’s claim unfounded. But, after having the case for six months, the Court, without any explanation, refused to hear it.

Meanwhile, Article 32 of the Russian Constitution specifies only two categories of citizens who can be denied a place on a ballot for elective office: persons who have been declared by a court to be legally incompetent and those sentenced to prison. This list is exhaustive; the article does not have any other stipulations or any provision for the matter to be dealt with further by federal law. The Constitutional Court could not ignore the Constitution, so it simply dodged the issue. (In 2010, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that “the holding of more than one nationality should not be a ground for ineligibility to sit as a member of Parliament.”)

Another example of how the Constitution is disregarded when dealing with individuals with dual citizenship occurred when legendary dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who also holds dual Russian-British citizenship, was nominated to run for president of Russia. The Central Election Commission headed by Vladimir Churov denied him registration on the grounds that he is a permanent resident of Great Britain.

The restrictions placed on Russians with dual citizenship are legally inconsistent with the Constitution, and are in sharp contrast with international practice. For example, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had dual U.S.-Austrian citizenship, and former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner was a citizen of Canada and Great Britain – both while holding office. The Duma members would do well to recall that Russian statehood itself was established by foreigners: the Rurik dynasty was invited to Novgorod from Scandinavia in 862 A.D.

The restrictions placed on Russians with dual citizenship are legally inconsistent with the Constitution, and are in sharp contrast with international practice.

The attempts to present Russia as under siege by enemy forces is a continuation of Soviet policy. In such a system of values, foreigners, at best, are treated with suspicion, but for the most part, are portrayed as archenemies of Russian statehood. This does not mean that the creators and propagandists of the “under siege” laws take these threats seriously. On the contrary, they gladly send their family members abroad to study, to get medical treatment, to vacation, and even to live. They willingly keep their substantial savings in Western banks and buy businesses in the West.

According to media reports, Alexander Sidyakin, a United Russia deputy, an uncompromising fighter against the “American threat,” and one of the authors of the “foreign agents” law, spent his recent winter vacation in New York City and Florida. Sidyakin and his party do not let orphaned children live with American families, but he himself goes to the U.S. with great pleasure.

Pavel Astakhov, another prominent figure of the Putin regime, a graduate of the Higher School of the KGB and the Children’s Ombudsman, zealously advocates banning foreigners from adopting Russian orphans because of the horrible living conditions in the West. However, according to the human rights organization Children’s Rights, this does not prevent him from owning a luxurious villa on the Cote-d’Azur, where his family lives and where he goes “almost every weekend.” His youngest son was born in France, and his oldest one studied in England and now studies in the U.S. Evidently, the West is not dangerous for Astakhov’s children, but is completely unsafe for homeless orphans whom foreigners wish to adopt.

Similar examples abound. Lawmakers, ministers and other regime scum resort to keeping two books: they sell the Russian people the image of foreign enemies, but do not believe in it themselves. They know all too well the realities of life in Russia and in the West. Their endless attempts to present people with dual citizenship as Russia’s enemies are nothing more than cheap propagandist swill for domestic consumption. Everybody is sick and tired of it – just as everyone is sick and tired of the Duma deputies themselves.