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May 29, 2017

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Russians being forced to report dual nationalities

MOSCOW--Russians will have to declare other citizenships to the authorities under a new law coming into force on Monday — leading some to fear they may end up on the wrong end of the country's increasingly nationalistic politics.

Failing to declare a second passport or the right to permanent residence in another country will become a criminal offence under the new law, which swept through parliament in a matter of weeks.

There has been a spate of nationalistic laws — as well as crackdowns on dissidents and critics — since President Vladimir Putin began a third term as president in 2012. That trend has accelerated since Russia's annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of hostilities in neighboring Ukraine.

Many are wondering if there is a sinister intent behind the new citizenship law. Debates have broken out in social media about what people should do.

"There is the fear — why is this needed?" said Leonid, a 28-year-old businessman, who gave only his first name. "First they require us to notify, will they then make us choose?"

'People are nervous'

The Russian constitution explicitly allows citizens to take a second nationality, and authorities are often aware since the question appears on passport applications.

But "the problem is that in Russia laws mean one thing on paper and in reality something completely different," journalist Svetlana Reyter, who acquired Dutch citizenship from her husband, said in the online journal Afisha-Gorod.

Pro-opposition political analyst Alexander Morozov told AFP that such laws "create an atmosphere of self-censorship and fear in society."

Officials aren't reassuring. One Muscovite who went to the authorities said officials were cheerful and helpful when asked about renewing her passport.

"But when I asked about declaring my second nationality the woman turned to stone and told me to come back after the law enters into force," said a bank executive who did not want to give her name.

While still uncertain whether she will declare her second nationality, she did not hesitate when asked what she would do if forced to make a choice.

"In general I am loyal to my country, but if Russia makes me choose it will be my EU passport," she said.

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