Russian embassy staffing issues hamper Estonian citizenship applications

Siiri Leskov
Siiri Leskov Source: ERR

The number of Russian nationals applying for Estonian citizenship jumped from 291 in 2021, to 726 last year, an interior spokesperson says.

Processing these applicants is now being held up, after the Russian Embassy in Tallinn temporarily stopped procedures involved in surrendering Russian citizenship.

Siiri Leskov, Citizenship Policy and Civil Society Department adviser at the Ministry of the Interior, told ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Monday that: "These are people of all ages; often they are not the most elderly, but middle-aged, and younger people."

The recent reduction in the number of Russian embassy staff in Tallinn has led to a suspension of some consular activities, however, including processing the renunciation of Russian citizenship – a necessary precursor to taking Estonian citizenship.

Leskov said: "In order [for a Russian citizen] to obtain Estonian citizenship, it is necessary to surrender Russian citizenship first. Previously, as a rule, it was necessary to contact the Russian embassy and submit an application for exemption from Russian citizenship there.

"A few weeks ago, however, the Russian embassy announced that they had stopped accepting applications from Russian citizens, but they also said that once they had reorganized their workflows, this would most likely be restored," Leskov added.

The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) will ensure those who had already applied to renounce their Russian citizenship will see exemptions in crossing the state border continuing, adding that there would be no wholesale repatriation to Russia of those who need to return there for this or related purposes.

"Even in this case, they have usually received the necessary documents by mail," Leskov added.

Another issue is that of expired Russian passports.

Leskov noted that states are obliged to document their citizens, including in the case of expired passports, though in this case an individual who had a residence permit in Estonia will also not see any issues in continuing to live in Estonia, though it may naturally prove a problem with regard to travel.

Obtaining Estonian citizenship by naturalization includes taking a relatively easy language exam (at B1 level in the Common European Framework) and a test on the Constitution, as well as surrendering any citizenship(s) the applicant may hold.

In the case of citizenship by naturalization, Estonia does not permit dual citizenship.

Since Estonia is primarily a Jus Sanguinis jurisdiction, those who obtain citizenship by birth, for instance by having antecedents who were Estonian citizens at the time of the First Estonian Republic, or since the Restoration of Independence in 1991, do not have to surrender any other citizenship they may hold.

There are also tens of thousands of Estonian residents of indeterminate citizenship who hold gray [literally] passports. These are overwhelmingly Russian-speaking people who are neither citizens of Estonia nor of the Russian Federation, nor of anywhere else. The gray passport is intended as a travel document.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced last month that the Estonian ambassador in Moscow, Margus Laidre would have to leave the country by Tuesday this week. Russia is also recalling its ambassador from Tallinn.

This followed a requirement by Estonia that the Russian Embassy in Tallinn roughly halve its staffing numbers, to bring parity between it and the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, in terms of personnel.--

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

Source: 'Terevisioon', interviewer Liisu Lass.

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