RECORD OF THE PRESS BRIEFING ON RESULTS OF THE RUSSIAN -TURKMEN COMMISSION FIRST MEETING ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP ISSUES
The participants of press briefing are as follows: Alexei Fedotov, Deputy Foreign Minister, Vladimir Kotenev, Director of the Foreign Ministry Department of Consular Service, Serguey Apatenko, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on the CIS, Igor Yunash, First Deputy Head of the Federal Migration Service of the Interior Ministry.
A.Fedotov: As you know, the first meeting of the Russian-Turkmen commission on citizenship was held in Ashgabad on July 8-9. Let me remind you that the commission was created at the initiative of the Turkmen side in accordance with the agreement reached by Russian President V.V. Putin and Turkmen President S.A. Niyazov. The composition of Russian commission was approved by the President of the Russian Federation. The commission was tasked with conducting negotiations in order to find a way out of the situation that developed after Turkmenistan had terminated the agreement between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan on dual citizenship of December 23, 1993.
The main task of our part of the commission was ensuring the rights of people with Russian and Turkmen citizenship in Turkmenistan, including after the termination of the 1993 Agreement, discussing measures that could allow the Russian Federation to ratify the Protocol of April 10, 2003. The composition of the commission on both sides signifies importance that Russia and Turkmenistan attach to resolving of existing problems.
Including me our commission consists of Vladimir Kotenev, Director of the Foreign Ministry Consular Service Department, Viktor Kuznetsov, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Citizenship Department, Serguey Apatenko, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on the CIS, Alexander Nekrasov, Head of the Information and Analytical Section of the Federal Security Service Border Control Department, Maxim Torilin, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Development, Vasiliy Khristoforov, Head the Federal Security Service Department, Igor Yunash, First Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry Federal Migration Service.
On the Turkmen side the commission was headed by Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and Foreign Minister R.Meredov. The Turkmen delegation also included the Chairman of the Turkmen Mejlis Committee on International and Inter-Parliamentary Ties, the First Deputy Interior Minister, the Deputy Minister of National Security and the First Deputy Head of the State Border Guard Service.
In the course of meetings we stated very clearly that we were not indifferent to the interests of Russian citizens no matter where they lived. We stated that protection of their rights and interests was a prime responsibility of the Foreign Ministry, the government, governmental institutions, and our diplomatic and consular missions. We favor resolving existing problems in a constructive way and bringing them back onto a legal frame.
The commission's work showed that the sides have common understanding of the issues that need to be solved. We restated Russia's principle position regarding unilateral termination by Turkmenistan of the 1993 Agreement. We noted that by having the Protocol signed the sides expressed their wish to terminate the 1993 Agreement before its expiry. We continue to proceed from the fact that until a written notice of ratification by the Russian side of the Protocol of 2003 on termination of the Agreement on dual citizenship between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan of December 23, 1993, has been received the aforementioned Agreement remains in force. By signing the Protocol of April 10, 2003, we assumed that it could not be applied retroactively and that the rights of more than 100,000 Russian citizens should be ensured in full. We said that unless the State Duma of the Russian Federation ratified this document, the Agreement would continue to remain in effect until its expiry in 2005. It is automatically extended every five years unless one of the parties announces six months in advance its withdrawal from the Agreement.
The Turkmen side said it would not take any actions or decisions that would infringe on the interests of our citizens either during the work of the commission or after it.
In the course of the commission's meeting we said we looked to implementing the entire set of bilateral documents in the humanitarian field. These documents include the Agreement between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan on regulation of resettlement and protection of rights of the settlers of December 23, 1993; the Treaty between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan on cooperation on ensuring the rights of the Russian minority in Turkmenistan and of the Turkmen minority in the Russian Federation of May 18, 1995; the Treaty between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan on the legal status of the Russian Federation citizens permanently residing in Turkmenistan and of the Turkmenistan citizens permanently residing in the Russian Federation of May 18, 1995; and the Agreement between the governments of two countries on mutual visits of citizens of July 17, 1999.
The Russian delegation expressed a serious concern about introduction by the Turkmen side of the exit visas dated March 1, 2003. This practice has been also applied to Russian citizens after April 22. We drew the attention of the Turkmen side to the fact that this leads to violation of the principle of free movement for the Russian citizens wishing to visit their historical home land. This also creates or may create the problem of divided families. We said we looked to lifting of this procedure for our citizens.
The Turkmen side listened to our concerns and said that it had complied with the procedures stipulated by the Protocol of April 10, 2003. There were adopted a Decree of Mejlis and governmental documents. A Presidential Decree was published which from the Turkmenistan's point of view ensures the legitimacy of its actions.
At the same time during the meetings, the head of Turkmen part of the commission stated that the actions of Turkmen side were not aimed at infringement on the rights of citizens and that we had to discuss these issues and find mutually acceptable solutions, including these issues as well. He stressed that a number of documents were signed with the Russian side that I mentioned before, which guarantee political, social and economic rights of citizens. In opinion of the Turkmen side, they make it possible to maintain and develop cultural, ethnic and language identity of the Russian-speaking population in Turkmenistan. The Turkmen side also pointed out that there were no violations. In opinion of the Turkmen side it strictly abides by the commitments laid down in those agreements and treaties. We took notice of this information.
At the meetings both sides presented their official positions. Detailed and constructive discussions on the issues of concern were held. On the whole, the commission was able to find a common understanding of the problems that have to be solved in implementing the Protocol of April 10, 2003.
We believe that there are certain changes - not only by word of mouth - in the position of Turkmen side. For instance, it has dropped its requirement to stamp exit-entry visas in the Turkmen passports of our citizens. The dual citizenship holders are now issued multiple exit visas for one year to leave the country.
We have been able to sign a joint document - the Protocol. It was signed by the heads of both parts of the commission. In that document the sides have noted the need of implementing the provisions of the April 10 Protocol on termination of the Agreement between Russia and Turkmenistan on settling the problems of dual citizenship. It specifically stresses that implementation of the Protocol after its entry into force will be carried out in complete accordance with the legislation of Russia and Turkmenistan and international legal norms. The Protocol also contains a thesis that the Treaty on friendship and cooperation between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan, signed April 23, 2003, as well as the documents and agreements that I have listed above are the foundation of the relations between our countries on the entire set of issues as regards safeguarding the rights and interests of both countries.
It is extremely important that the Turkmen side has officially stated in the signed document that the rights and interests of the Russian citizens residing in Turkmenistan are not violated and will be observed in full in the future. This is a principle provision. This commitment of the Turkmen side has been laid down for the first time in this form.
The Protocol also contains a demand of the Russian side that exit visas being stamped in the passports of citizens possessing, along with the Turkmen, the Russian citizenship be lifted. Eventually we have failed to resolve this issue but our part of the commission will work for settling this issue in the course of further meetings of the commission. We consider this issue of key importance.
The Russian side has expressed its readiness to provide assistance in improving coordination of the efforts of competent bodies of Russia and Turkmenistan in verifying legality of acquiring Russian citizenship by some people suspected of committing crimes in the territory of Turkmenistan. This issue raises serious concern of the Turkmen side. At the same time I would like to stress that this issue falls outside the authority of our commission which deals with issues of citizenship.
It is important that the Protocol outlines the understanding that after termination of the Agreement of 1993 on settling the issues of dual citizenship the competent bodies of the Russian Federation will consider applications of the Turkmen citizens on granting of the Russian citizenship and subsequently to issue Russian passports upon submitting a certificate of their refusing from the Turkmen citizenship. But this will be applied after the Agreement of 1993 is terminated. This is to say that it will be implemented only within the framework of Russian legislation on citizenship and on condition that the 1993 Agreement is terminated under the procedure provided for by the Russian legislation and international legal norms.
The sides have agreed to continue the work of the commission, considering that there were a number of important issues that had to be solved. We have agreed to hold the next meeting in September-October this year while maintaining regular contacts in-between the sessions of the commission. The Russian Embassy in Ashgabad and the Turkmenistan Embassy in Moscow will work in this direction too. We have also agreed to use experts and, if need be, to establish expert working groups on individual issues that both sides will find necessary to discuss in this particular format.
Q: Aleksey Leonidovich, What caused the differences of opinion that you could not solve? What the sides will undertake if there is information about certain violations of human rights?
Fedotov: We think that the practice of issuing exit visas falls into a category of human rights violations. This was recorded in the Protocol as a problem that we had to discuss and solve.
As regards possible rights violations. Our commission is not the only channel of communication with the Turkmen side. If we get such information, we have the Embassy and Consular Department and other federal agencies that deal with these issues within the frame of their authority. So, if official or confirmed information comes in, it will be processed in accordance with the established procedure like any other application to the federal bodies of executive power. There are no problems there.
It is important to notice that the Commission worked in the constructive and businesslike atmosphere. We have tried to discuss our differences in interpretations as issues that we have to solve together, not emphasizing that we have insurmountable differences. We tried to consider the issue from the practical point of view of joint actions and tried to find a common language.
I have mentioned a couple of issues fixed in the Protocol which we are going to work on and which we still need to solve in a satisfactory manner for both sides.
Q: Including the issue of exit visas?
A.L.Fedotov: It is called permission write. You remember there were ones in the Soviet times reading "departure till ...".
Q: You have said that you reached an agreement on mutual extradition of those who committed crimes. But you know that under pretense of bringing to justice those who "committed crimes" sometimes settling of political accounts happens.
A.L.Fedotov: I was not talking about extradition but that we have agreed to strengthen interaction of competent bodies in verifying the legitimacy of obtaining Russian citizenship by a number of persons who are suspected of having committed crimes in the territory of Turkmenistan. The point is if the Turkmen side suspects that a person leaving for Russia committed a crime or is being suspected of something else, they let the competent Russian agencies know about it and then the Russian side finds out whether that citizen acquired Russian citizenship legitimately. In other words, the documents are verified. And we do not go any further. There is no extradition.
S.N.Apatenko: As Alexey Leonidovich said our commission had certain goals and tasks. But as a deputy of State Duma who, as you know, previously voted for adopting the declaration on the situation in Turkmenistan regarding the citizens of the Russian Federation I was worried about media reports on infringements on the rights of citizens of the Russian Federation. I am sorry that the State Duma adopted this resolution. Many of the facts have not been verified. I think it is one of the problems for the Turkmen side as well. In early June a delegation of State Duma was to depart for Turkmenistan. I think the contacts that could take place in June could have removed many of the problems that we are facing now.
And most importantly, before bilateral commission started working in Ashgabad we held a number of meetings including with a large number of our citizens who had received settler certificates and who applied to the migration service to obtain these certificates. I would like to note that some reports of mass media caused specific outrage of our citizens when they heard on television that there were violations and confiscation of their apartments and property. Unfortunately, we didn't stay in Turkmenistan for a long time, but we had a lot of meetings on this issue. And I would like to ask the mass media to show restraint. It sparks an outrage that such information appears in foreign mass media. There are some problems that we will address jointly. That is the constriction of Russian language information space and the problem with publication of the Russian-language newspapers. The commission also discussed these topics. Another problem was the constriction of the Russian language education space and shortage of the Russian-language schools, impossibility of acquiring higher and specialized education in Russian. These are the factors that cause uncertainty in our citizens about the future. That is why they apply for settler certificates. But among people applying for certificates there was only 50 percent of Russians. It doesn't mean that the people with such certificates leave Turkmenistan. We met some people who obtained these certificates in 1997. A lot of people obtain them just in case.
And the flow of such certificate-seekers increased after the mass media began reporting on infringement on the rights of Russians. There are of course some problems. We will consider these issues within the frame of our commission and legislative and power authorities have to work together to prevent such situations from arising in the future. We decided that such meetings should be held more often at the different levels within the frame of the Commission.
A.L.Fedotov: The issues Apatenko mentioned fall outside the authority of our commission but they concern all of us very seriously. We certainly identified these issues. I hope that parliamentary exchanges and our delegation's trip at the invitation of the President of Turkmenistan, which will involve our parliamentarians, journalists, the human rights commissioner under the Russian President, will clarify the situation and find solutions together with the Turkmen side. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Commission deals with issues within its authority and is guided by the understanding of the necessity to exert maximum efforts for the development of relations between Russia and Turkmenistan. It concerns directly the work of our commission because only normal conditions and relations between the two states can create proper conditions for the life of citizens of one country in the territory of the other country. Any other approach would be illogical. This is why we focused not on existing disagreements but on the problems that we would have to address together. We hope that we will be able to solve some of the problems at the next meetings. Our task is not to harm our relations but to make everything possible to develop and strengthen them.
Q: If something goes wrong, not as we would like, does Russia have any arguments to pressure Turkmenistan? If yes, what are they?
A.L.Fedotov: The Commission was not set up on voluntary basis. We have our mandate that was signed by our president. Our Turkmen colleagues have an identical task - to contribute to the development of interstate relations and make everything possible to ensure that arising problems do not damage the development of relations. Our bilateral relations are developing in a wide range of areas. Both sides are interested in the development of relations and in solving the problems put before our commission. That is why I hope for the success of our commission's mission and the progress at its every meeting. We think that certain progress was already achieved at the last meeting. It is also very important to learn to talk normal language to each other, not only through mass media, and to learn to understand each other and each other's concerns. When a dialogue is conducted that way, we can hope for success and good results.
Q: How many Russians live in Turkmenistan now and how many of them have dual citizenship?
V.V.Kotenev: According to official statistics, about 95,000 people are registered in the consular department of the Russian Embassy in Ashgabad. They are dual citizenship holders. They have both Russian and Turkmen citizenship. It is quite hard to say how many ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking citizens live in Turkmenistan. We don't have such official statistics.
Q: Aleksey Leonidovich, you said the law couldn't be applied retroactively. Does this mean that by forcing people to choose between Russian and Turkmen citizenship, I mean with dual citizenship, Turkmenistan breaks this rule?
A.L.Fedotov: I want to say that our Embassy has not received any refusals from the Russian citizenship. I mean the way it has been put, that people have to choose citizenship does not really fit into our understanding of how the signed Protocol should be implemented. But at the same time no one has so far refused from the Russian citizenship.
Q: Do people refuse from Turkmen citizenship?
A.L.Fedotov: If they decide to do it, I don't think they will come to us.
Q: Did you meet with members of the Russian community? Will they take part in the official meetings and negotiations? We know that the organization has been refused registration for many years and its leader had to leave Turkmenistan. What is the life of the Russian community there?
A.L. Fedotov: A part of our delegation had an opportunity to meet with Russian citizens residing in Turkmenistan at the consulate and the office of the Federal Migration Service. I think we will have a more detailed discussion on this topic when the abovementioned delegation visits Turkmenistan. It will consist of parliamentarians, journalists and officials from state organizations that deal with human rights. We have not been authorized to deal with it. Theoretically we could arrange a meeting with our citizens, but we had very serious tasks to fulfill, and we preferred to focus on them.
Q: Why did Grigory Yavlinsky accuse Russian Foreign Ministry of conducting a conciliatory policy on this issue?
A.L.Fedotov: There are as many views as deputies. Criticism is a normal tool that allows Foreign Ministry to act carefully and in a balanced way while making decisions and implementing them.
S.N.Apatenko: Russia will hold the elections soon. In all times everybody criticized weather and governments. Some political organizations are winning the votes of electorate by criticizing the Government.
Q: You said that information on violations is not true to the fact. What are your reasons?
S.N.Apatenko: Very much so. What are the reasons to believe otherwise? Relying on information of "Deutsche Welle"? I talked to people.
Q: In what manner did you talk to them?
S.N.Apatenko: I am a politician and I know how to talk to people. It happened in the Russian Embassy and the Migration Service, and in the streets. People expressed indignation hearing from mass media of the infringement on their rights. The mass media publish unchecked information and create chaos. But everything is fine. It is natural that there are some problems but we will solve them.
Q: In case of exodus of Russians from Turkmenistan what program of actions does Russian Government have?
I.B.Yunash: I have to say that office of the Russian Migration Service operates in Turkmenistan since 1996 and deals with assisting the Russian citizens and compatriots with moving from Turkmenistan to Russia. We have received over 27 000 people for consultations over this period. Starting from 1996 we have issued 55079 permissions to enter Russia. I would like to underline that this number means the number of families but not physical persons. However this does not mean that all of them moved to Russia because many of them received those permissions to solve their problems or just in case. Today as time passes by many of them come again because the composition of family changed or children were born. There are 20-30 people every day in the Embassy to endorse permissions issued earlier. The events we are discussing now did not cause mass outflow but questions. It has increased the amount of people coming to the Migration Service in Ashgabat, in the centers of regions for explanations. It happened sometimes that there were up to 400 people a day. Comparing to the last year data there is no rise in amount of people that were permitted to enter Russia. I can produce some figures. 14408 people got permissions to move to Russia in a half-year period in 2000, 18799 people - in 2001, 27354 people - in 2002, 10880 people - in 2003. The applications of 3000 people are under consideration. Together with the Russian Ministry of Labor we work out preventive measures to make a plan on accommodating those people, assisting them in the Russian territory. In particular we handed to our Embassy an application form for those who wish to settle in Russia in the social institutions as, for example, institutions for elderly. We agreed that we would maintain a regular flow of information from the Russian regions on where the labor force is needed and where accommodations are given. Such information is available in our Embassy in Ashgabat. Anyone can get it but not every Russian region is included. There are a number of regions that expressed readiness to receive our compatriots that would offer jobs and accommodations. We believe that we have to have a full picture before us. We agreed that specially assigned staff member of our Embassy in Ashgabat would deal separately with this problem. He will keep in touch with the Ministries of Labor and Social Development so that we could get information within 3-5 days and based on individual request of citizens. If there is a Russian citizen or compatriot wishing to move, let's say, to Kazan, we could recommend him the variants of jobs there in a week. We have accommodation centers for urgent resettlers. They are ready to receive people. Yet, nobody of the Turkmen citizens turned to us with such requests. As a rule people move there being aware that they go either to relatives or friends. There is no panic among our citizens or outflow from Turkmenistan as it was in Chechnya. Our establishments continue to work as planned together with our Embassy and Consular services.
(The text of press briefing of July 10, 2003, in RIA "Novosti", is published according to the text of the Russian Foreign Ministry bulletin)