In the following days, bills addressing the issue of double citizenship were registered in the Ukrainian Parliament. As the Verkhovna Rada is processing the documents, debates continue. While double citizenship may help protect the rights of Ukrainians abroad and involve the diaspora community in Ukraine, there must be a mechanism to eliminate possible security risks for Ukraine, especially given that part of Ukrainian territory is occupied.
President Zelenskyy addressed the matter of double citizenship in his inaugural speech in May 2019. Within half a year, he filed the appropriate draft law but ran into criticism from Parliament. Two years later, the draft was withdrawn from the Verkhovna Rada’s agenda citing the Constitution’s legal definition of nationality. Constitutional laws cannot be changed in this manner.
Article 4 of the Ukrainian Constitution states that “There is single citizenship in Ukraine.” The 2001 law explaining the principle of single citizenship in Ukraine excludes citizenship of territorial units, so there is no possibility of a regional “Kyiv” or “Lviv” citizenship. There are discussions on how the principle of “single citizenship” should be extended beyond the limitations of regional citizenship: does “single citizenship” also apply to foreign states?
The interpretation of this concept is still being debated. “The Constitutional Court is the only body that may interpret the Constitution, and there is no solution to this matter,” says Yuliia Kyrychenko, an expert at the Center of Political and Legal Reforms. She adds that presently no mechanism exists to discover if an individual maintains any foreign citizenship. Moreover, foreign states cannot provide this data outside of special agreements with Ukraine or if the person is placed on Interpol’s Wanted List.
It is important to note that the principle of single citizenship implies that a national of Ukraine also possessing a foreign passport will be considered a citizen of Ukraine in legal relations with Ukraine.
What does the bill change?
The cornerstone of proposed changes in the new bill is that the following clause will be removed from effective law:
“Voluntary acquisition of the citizenship of a foreign state entails the loss of Ukrainian citizenship.”
This modification will permit aliens to obtain Ukrainian passports and will enable Ukrainians to acquire foreign passports, according to Ihor Koliushko, Head of the Board at the Center of Political and Legal Reforms.
How does this impact dual citizenship with Russia?
The President’s initiative also considers state security. If a person from a “migration risk” country applies for Ukrainian citizenship, they would be required to renounce their foreign citizenship. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine will draft a list of “migration risk” countries that is likely to include Russia, so dual citizenships with Russia and its satellites will likely be prohibited.
Dmytro Kubela, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, agrees with this assessment. He claims that Ukraine will allow dual citizenships with European Union countries and other countries deemed “friendly.”
What concerns people who live in occupied territories of Crimea or Donbas and have forcibly been issued Russian passports, Ukraine does not recognize their Russian citizenship and considers it a formality for them to reside in these regions. “We understand that when [the territories] are liberated, all of [the residents] will abandon those [Russian passports,]” says Oleksiy Danilov, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.
Benefits of dual citizenship
According to political scientist Oleh Saakian, the introduction of dual citizenship will serve the interests of Ukrainians living abroad and bind them together:
“We have a powerful labor migration, mixed marriages, and kids. Finally, the notion of a ‘global Ukrainian’ appeared. It means a person with Ukrainian roots or born in Ukraine but at the same time connected to other states. All of this is topical for our country.”
He adds that security risks must be considered.
Oles Horodetskyi, Head of the Christan Society of Ukrainians Abroad, supports Saakian’s stance. He believes the revisions will improve circumstances for Ukrainians in Italy, a country that allows dual nationality:
“[Ukrainians living in Italy] fear that Ukraine may deprive them of their Ukrainian citizenship. Legalizing the situation of Ukrainian workers would be the right step. It is more important that Ukrainians abroad have their rights protected.”
Horodetsky’s stance is that the bill alone is insufficient and, considering the number of Ukrainians living abroad, a special mechanism to address dual citizenship issues should be negotiated. In Italy, for example, a ministry for migrants was created to protect the rights of Italians abroad.
The Head of the Union of Ukrainians in Portugal, Pavlo Sadokha, points out that many Ukrainians in Portugal have not applied for Portuguese citizenship out of fear of losing their Ukrainian citizenship. “In practice, this created many everyday difficulties, namely with the extension of residence permits in Portugal,” he notes. Many Ukrainians in Portugal plan to return to Ukraine after becoming eligible for a Portuguese pension. This, according to Sadokha, will allow them to finance businesses in Ukraine without limitations and to participate in local elections, providing a valuable voting base to pro-Western political parties. Moreover, the possibility to maintain Ukrainian citizenship will motivate workers abroad to preserve their national identity and commitment to Ukraine.
This mechanism will also work in the opposite direction as it will allow foreigners, many of whom have Ukrainian roots or were born in Ukraine, to acquire Ukrainian nationality. This will enable the Ukrainian diaspora to have a powerful influence on the country’s current political and economic developments.
Disadvantages of dual citizenship
There are concerns that the Ukrainian government is trying to create a means of electoral manipulation. In the opinion of Ihor Koliushko, Zelenskyy may be pushing for a dual citizenship bill to gain new citizen votes in the upcoming 2023 presidential election. According to Koliushko,
“Our government always talks about the need to introduce e-voting. So if he [Zelesnky] grants Ukrainian citizenship to ten million people, this will virtually change the electoral map by 1.5 times.”
Yevhen Mahda, Director at the Institute of World Politics, endorses this view:
“People are offered to swiftly obtain Ukrainian citizenship. In exchange, they do not have a chance to take a public post… For a long time, we did not have a clear policy with regard to our diaspora, and now such a rush. This is disturbing.”
This point is refuted by David Arakhamia, a member of the Servant of the People pro-Zelenskyy and Parliament majority party, who claims that said Ukrainian nationals permanently residing in foreign states may not vote in Ukrainian elections.
According to the proposed amendments, a Ukrainian with dual citizenship will not be able to take a public post, work in law enforcement or local government, have state security clearance, participate in elections, or join political parties. To this end, a special system to identify and verify dual citizenship nationality will be arranged.
Oleksiy Danilov recalls that during the term of pro-Russian ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian nationals occupied many key posts in the Ukrainian government, including the Head of Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Chief of General Staff, and the Minister of Defense.
At the same time, though, Ukrainian law established the principle of equality for all Ukrainian nationals. While it is reasonable that Russian nationals must be precluded from public service in Ukraine, Ukrainian citizens with dual citizenship with non-Russian countries should not be subject to discrimination.
“Foreign citizenship is not a permissible ground for discrimination. This applies to both suffrage and access to public service and local government,” says Olha Poiedynok, a PhD in Law at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv.
In the commentary for Ukrinform, she cited the European Human Rights case “Tanase v. Moldova”: Tanase, a member of the Moldovan Parliament, was a dual citizen of both Moldova and Romania, citizenship shared by many other Moldovan citizens. In this case, the government of Moldova was unable to convince the court why such a large number of its citizens should be deprived of the right to be elected to the government.
Greater freedom of movement, easier business ventures, and the chance for diaspora Ukrainians to contribute to their home community are all potential benefits of the dual citizenship bill. At the same time, Ukraine must consider the security risks inherent in this situation to prevent Russia’s exploitation of dual citizenship as a component of its hybrid warfare.
In the opinion of Olha Poiedynok, the main risk of these new initiatives is the lack of legal clarity. So now, the main task of Ukrainian legislators is to create a workable system of dual citizenship and to answer crucial questions such as those posed by Poiedynok: When is a foreign passport a threat to Ukraine’s national security? What institution will decide this? And how should “state security” be interpreted?
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