Russia is preparing a 'loyalty agreement' requirement for foreigners


  • World
  • Wednesday, 29 Nov 2023

Steam rises from chimneys of a heating power plan over the skyline of central Moscow, Russia November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia's interior ministry has prepared draft legislation that would force foreigners to sign a "loyalty agreement" forbidding them from criticising official policy, discrediting Soviet military history, or contravening traditional family values.

Since President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has introduced a slew of tough laws that outlaw discrediting the military, and courts have handed down long jail sentences to opposition activists.

As the 2024 presidential election approaches, Putin has cast the war as part of an existential battle with the West, saying he will defend Russia's "sacred" civilisation from what he portrays as the West's decadence.

The TASS state news agency reported on Wednesday that the draft legislation had been prepared by the interior ministry and would force all foreigners entering Russia to sign an agreement that essentially restricts what they can say in public.

A foreigner entering Russia would be prohibited from "interfering with the activities of public authorities of the Russian Federation, discrediting in any form the foreign and domestic state policy of the Russian Federation, public authorities and their officials", TASS said.

The proposed agreement would include clauses about morality, family, "propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations" and history.

In particular, foreigners would be barred from "distorting the historical truth about the feat of the Soviet people in the defence of the Fatherland and its contribution to the victory over fascism".

The Soviet Union is estimated to have lost at least 27 million people in World War Two and eventually pushed Nazi forces back to Berlin. Governments loyal to Moscow then took power across swathes of eastern Europe.

It was not clear from Russian media reports which foreigners the draft legislation - if it becomes law - would apply to or what the punishment would be for not adhering to the "agreement" which foreigners would have to sign upon entry to Russia.

The Kremlin declined to comment on the initiative.

'LOYALTY AGREEMENT'

Opposition activists and foreign diplomats in Moscow have for months been warning that the authorities are toughening their stance on any dissent ahead of the presidential election.

The Kremlin said earlier this month that some measure of censorship was needed as Russian troops were fighting in Ukraine, and cautioned those who wanted to criticise the military to think carefully before they did.

For the draft to become law, it has to be introduced to the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, and to go through committee review and several readings before being submitted to Putin for signing.

The chairman of the Duma's CIS Affairs Committee said that the draft law was well advanced and was being worked on by the interior ministry, the government, the presidential administration as well as his committee.

"The draft law on the so-called 'loyalty agreement' with migrants entering the Russian Federation is in a high degree of readiness," Leonid Kalashnikov told Interfax.

Kalashnikov said some details of the proposed law were still to be worked out. The interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.

The law has not yet been introduced formally in parliament, according to Reuters searches of the Duma's database.

Since the start of its war in Ukraine, Russia has imposed a number of restrictions on foreigners from what it calls "unfriendly countries" - meaning those that have imposed sanctions on it over its war in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Nick Macfie)

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