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Ex-Soviet Dissident Says Russia Won’t Renew His Passport

  • Carl Schreck

Vladimir Bukovsky, a dissident and human rights campaigner who spent many years in Soviet GULAG camps and psychiatric institutions, in a photo from a 2013 visit to Prague

Vladimir Bukovsky, a dissident and human rights campaigner who spent many years in Soviet GULAG camps and psychiatric institutions, in a photo from a 2013 visit to Prague

Former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky claims consular officials are refusing to issue him a new Russian passport because of his vocal criticism of the Kremlin.

Bukovsky, 71, says he applied to renew his passport at the Russian consulate in London in March but that officials have yet to issue him the document.

"The situation is changing there, and Soviet times are returning," Bukovsky, who lives in Cambridge, England, told RFE/RL on October 31. "Of course they don’t need [former dissidents] and our experience."

Bukovsky, who said his previous Russian passport expired in 2012, claims a consular official told an intermediary that he should use his British passport to travel to Russia.

"Until October there was no response whatsoever," Bukovsky said. "My friends called the consulate, trying to figure out what was happening. They were told that no one knows anything, that everything is being decided in Moscow."

Officials at the consulate informed Bukovsky that they were examining whether he is actually a Russian citizen, he says. His expired passport constitutes sufficient evidence of his citizenship, Bukovsky added.

Bukovsky spent 12 years in Soviet prison camps and psychiatric clinics, including as punishment for exposing the role of psychiatric hospitals in silencing critics.

The Soviet government exchanged him in 1976 for Chilean communist leader Luis Corvalan. Bukovsky, who has called for Putin’s ouster, has lived in Britain ever since the exchange.

He tried unsuccessfully to get on the ballot in Russia's 2008 presidential election, which was ultimately won by Russian President Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev.

Bukovsky has found a high-profile backer in his attempt to secure a new Russian passport: State Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov, one of the few federal Russian lawmakers who openly and harshly criticizes Putin.

Gudkov has asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to personally ensure that the passport is renewed and to "give the order" to ministry officials "to stop violating" Bukovsky's rights, according to a copy of the October 31 letter posted by Gudkov on the Internet.

The Russian Embassy in London did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment.

Bukovsky said he is not optimistic that Gudkov's intervention will help.

"I don't think they’re going to answer," he told RFE/RL, "or they'll answer with something completely unintelligible."

Bukovsky said he was last in Russia in 2010 and that he doubts he will be granted a Russian visa if he attempts to travel with his British passport.

"They don't want to me to travel there," he said.

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