Despite the economic hardship that Russia is enduring as a result of its invasion of Ukraine, a growing number of Tajiks are nevertheless seeking to adopt Russian citizenship.
According to fresh figures from Russia’s Interior Ministry, around 174,000 people with origins in Tajikistan received Russian citizenship in 2022. That is a sharp increase from almost 104,000 in 2021. The year before that, around 63,400 Tajiks chose to become Russian nationals.
Russia is historically a strong destination for people seeking to leave Tajikistan, where well-paid employment is sparse.
While Tajik expatriates have some scant freedom of movement and residency privileges in Russia as compared to peers from most of the world outside the former Soviet Union, they have limited access to accommodation and credit, making settling long-term a complicated proposition. Migrant labourers also face recurrent costs like payment for their work permits.
Holding Russian citizenship makes many problems go away.
Russian pensions are another draw. A minimum monthly pension in Tajikistan is just $14. In Russia, it is around $170, depending on the exchange rate.
The impetus to apply for citizenship is only likely to grow in coming years, despite Moscow’s deepening international isolation, as Russia pursues its stated goal to tinker with migration rules in such a way as to favour high-skilled professionals over low-skilled manual labourers.
Russian citizenship holds grave risks too. Anecdotal evidence suggests that recent recipients of that status have been prioritised for military mobilisation as the Kremlin forges ahead with its offensives against Ukraine. Chatter on social media among recent transplants to Russia reflects an increase in cases of people not being allowed to board planes because they are of fighting age.
Tajiks are permitted by the constitution to have dual Russia-Tajik citizenship, although there are some unspoken restrictions. People with Russian passports may not, in theory, hold government posts in Tajikistan, for example.
The status of Tajiks with Russian passports being inveigled into fighting in Ukraine is also fraught with legal complications. The Tajik Foreign Ministry has urged its own nationals to refrain from enlisting with Russian forces, while pro-government lawyers have warned that serving as a mercenary is a criminal offence that carries a possible prison sentence of up to 25 years.
There is some concern in Tajik government circles at just how many people are choosing to adopt Russian citizenship. One official cited the precedent of Moscow applying pressure on its neighbours and partners by claiming to be working in the interest of protecting ethnic Russians or Russian nationals as a worry. The war in Ukraine has its roots in Moscow’s claims to be fighting on behalf of co-ethnic communities in eastern regions of that country.
“There is a hypothetical risk that Russia might decide to ‘protect the rights of Russians in Tajikistan,’ and hold a so-called referendum and so on,” one well-placed official told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity.