Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Putin's Passport Ploy Presents Problems

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, recently wrote a WaPo piece about Russia’s long-term motives. In addition to arguing that Europe must provide immediate assistance to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, Ilves hits on Russia’s peculiar, and dangerous, practice of handing out Russian passports willy-nilly to any “ethnic Russian” who will take them:

The Russian Federation’s practice of instant citizenship, whereby Russian passports are distributed willy-nilly to ethnic Russians abroad so they can be “protected” in their current homeland, is unacceptable. Passports are travel documents, not a tool to justify aggression.

The first problem: Putin is using these freshly-minted passports to justify Russian invasions. (”We have to protect those Russian citizens – look, they even have Russian passports!”)  But a second problem is national security in the west.  Russian passports are no longer legitimate travel documents, and they should be met with skepticism at nations’ border crossings.

Ilves also raises the idea of reviewing Europe’s recognition of Russian passports as “trustworthy travel documents.” A key element of Moscow’s game plan in the territories it wants to take is “passportization”-- the cynical (not to mention illegal) distribution of Russian passports to citizens of other countries. That’s what it did in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the run-up to the 2008 [invasion]. Earlier this month it did the same thing in Crimea. “If it were some other country that was a passport mill, there would be a reaction to that.”

Ilves says EU countries should “review” their entire approach to dealing with Russian passports. “This document is now being thrown all over the place, to everybody, it means nothing, and therefore we have to cease—until we come up with a new policy—recognizing this as a legitimate travel document.”

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