The Caucasus Concerned over Born-Again Russians
Russia's April 21 offer to turn into Russians anyone who has lived on the territory of the former Soviet Union or Russian Empire and speaks Russian fluently has got the South Caucasus on edge.
The law on simplifying access to citizenship for Russian-speakers across the former Soviet Union is ostensibly meant to replenish the thinning numbers of Russians, who, even at over 142.47 million people ( the world's tenth largest country), apparently just don’t reproduce like they used to. Azerbaijan, and especially Armenia and Georgia, which do not exactly boast high birth rates, are worried that Russia could annex many of their citizens to make up the difference. Knowledge of Russian may have weakened of late in the South Caucasus, but widespread poverty still makes the region a prime place for creating born-again Russians. Armenia, which lacks Azerbaijan's natural resources and Georgia's status as a regional trade conduit, is particularly vulnerable to a citizenship drain. Russia also tightened its migrant- worker laws, which may prompt many Armenians, who travel to Russia for work, to opt for citizenship.
Responding to growing concerns, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia's parliamentary faction leader, Galust Sahakian, struck a globalist note. “We are citizens of Planet Earth and everyone is free to live wherever they want,” ArmeniaNow quoted Sahakian as saying. Armenia’s dependence on Moscow for trade and security, and the upcoming accession to the Russia-centric Customs Union leaves Yerevan with little voice for growling at Moscow.
Baku cautiously said that Moscow is free to pass such laws, but if it becomes a problem for Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijani government will respond in kind with its own legislation. Tbilisi also said that it may respond to the Russian law with actions of its own. “We will take measures in response,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani, without elaborating further. He warned Georgians that if they take Russian citizenship, they will lose their Georgian passports.
Some South-Caucasus residents already hold two passports, often illegally, to simplify crossing into Russia. Apart from migrant workers, some senior citizens also seek Russian citizenship in order to receive a state pension that is much higher in Russia than in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
It is yet early to tell how many South Caucasians, less-than-lovingly described in Russia as "persons of Caucasian ethnicity," will start dusting off Russian textbooks to succeed at the language/citizenship test.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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