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Russia: Duma Declaration Puts Heat On Turkmen Government

Prague, 20 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, today adopted a declaration that expresses "deep concern" over recent events in Turkmenistan.

The declaration comes after a dispute between Russia and Turkmenistan over a dual citizenship agreement the two countries signed in 1993. Turkmenistan has announced that the agreement will be void as of 22 June.

The declaration was authored by three Duma committees -- the Foreign Affairs Committee, the CIS Affairs Committee, and the Duma's Security Committee. The declaration says the Russian government does not recognize the annulment of the agreement since the Russian government has not ratified the decision to cancel the agreement.

The declaration calls on the Turkmen government to rescind the 22 June deadline for citizens in Turkmenistan to decide whether they want Turkmen or Russian citizenship.

Andrei Kokoshin is chairman of the Duma's committee on CIS affairs. Speaking yesterday, Kokoshin indicated the statement is meant to "pressure" the Turkmen government into reconsidering its policies, particularly the nearing deadline.

"We will work out and recommend to our government the kind of sanctions that would exert pressure on the behavior of the government of Turkmenistan."

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov pressed for the agreement's cancellation when he visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in April. Putin agreed to the cancellation, but whereas in Turkmenistan Niyazov decides all issues, in Russia canceling a bilateral agreement requires ratification by parliament.

During a nationally televised press conference today, Putin indicated Russia has a different interpretation of what was signed in April.

"I should say we did sign the appropriate document on canceling the dual-citizenship agreement, and right there we agreed the document would affect the citizens who at the moment of the document's signing wanted to get dual citizenship," he said. "They cannot do that anymore. It does not apply to those citizens who already have dual citizenship."

Putin said, however, that after a bilateral commission figures out the mechanics of canceling the agreement, those holding dual citizenship will have to decide whether they wish to be citizens of Russia or Turkmenistan.

Until then, Putin said he has Niyazov's word that nothing serious will happen to Russian citizens living in Turkmenistan.

"The Turkmen president and I discussed this question recently. He called me again yesterday, and he and I discussed this issue [canceling the dual-citizenship agreement]," Putin said. "The Turkmen president assured me that in Turkmenistan no action would be taken that would worsen the situation for Russian citizens [in Turkmenistan] until the work of a bilateral working group is completed."

Some Russian officials have estimated that as many as 100,000 Russian citizens living in Turkmenistan could be affected by the decision. The Russian press has said the move will amount to the "forced deportation" of tens of thousands of Russian citizens from Turkmenistan.

Turkmen authorities have put the figure of those affected by the cancellation of the agreement at less than 50.

The Duma declaration says the Russian government considers the dual citizenship agreement to still be in effect and says the unilateral move by Turkmenistan violates existing agreements on friendship between the two countries.

The declaration also cites "numerous instances of mass violations of human rights'" in Turkmenistan after the assassination attempt on Niyazov last November. The attempt prompted Niyazov to press for the cancellation of the dual citizenship agreement after the Turkmen government claimed many of those behind the attack had dual citizenship.

The Duma declaration also calls on the Turkmen government to lift restrictions on the teaching of the Russian language at educational institutions, on broadcasting Russian federal television channels, and on the free circulation of Russian printed media.

Some Russian television channels are available in Turkmenistan but are rebroadcast after a 24-hour delay to give time to Turkmen censors to review program content.

The Duma also plans to appeal to the Russian government to "immediately inform the Turkmen government about these demands and insist on their full and prompt fulfillment."

The declaration also calls on Russia's Cabinet of Ministers to grant refugee status "to all persons justifiably fearing reprisals" in Turkmenistan, and asks the cabinet to create a special fund in the 2004 budget to provide aid to refugees and people forcibly exiled from Turkmenistan.

The declaration recommends that Russia should work in coordination with other governments and international organizations with the goal of bringing "the necessary pressure on the government of Turkmenistan."

The Duma declaration comes one day after Dmitri Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma's committee on foreign affairs, announced that Turkmenistan had been put on a list of places that Russian citizens should avoid because of the absence in Turkmenistan of "proper security."

Rogozin said that list currently has more than 20 countries on it, mostly from Africa, the Persian Gulf, and South America. But, Rogozin said, "We have never had an instance when a CIS state was put on this list, but today we were forced to take this decision."