One year ago, Vladimir Putin sent a shockwave through Russia by announcing a partial mobilization.  For many Russians, this was when their country’s war against Ukraine finally hit home.  Some 300,000 men were called up to fight in the war. 

A story published by The Beet notes that a string of police raids conducted last month seemed to primarily target newly naturalized Russian citizens — namely, draft-age Central Asian men who had allegedly neglected to complete their military registration.  These raids reportedly sent a chill through Russia’s migrant communities and some newcomers have begun to see Russian citizenship as a liability. 

Since mid-August, police across Russia have reportedly rounded up hundreds of migrant workers from Central Asia in a wave of raids that appear to mainly target men who recently received Russian citizenship but didn’t complete their compulsory military registration.  According to media reports, police have handed out military summonses on the spot and forcibly taken men to enlistment offices.  There, they face the risk of joining the many migrants from Central Asia already working in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine or fighting on the frontlines.

Raids on establishments that employ labor migrants are reportedly a common occurrence in Russia.  But while they usually attempt to showcase the government’s purported effectiveness in combating crime and illegal migration, this latest wave appears to be aimed at bolstering the country’s military in its war against Ukraine.

On August 28, lawmaker Mikhail Matveyev introduced a draft law that would deprive naturalized Russian citizens of their citizenship if they evade military mobilization or miss the deadline for compulsory military registration. 

Earlier, the lawmaker suggested that people stripped of their acquired citizenship for draft dodging should be deported and that their family members should lose their Russian citizenship too — a draconian punishment that ultimately wasn’t included in the bill.

Russia’s constitution doesn’t distinguish between those born into citizenship and those who acquire it, and it directly prohibits denaturalization.  Nevertheless, several Russian laws stipulate that acquired citizenship can be revoked as punishment for crimes such as terrorism, extremism, and, as a result of more recent wartime amendments, “discrediting the Russian military.”

Earlier, Valery Fadeyev, the head of Russia’s Human Rights Council, suggested that issuing passports to new citizens should be coupled with military registration. 

Lawmaker Alexey Zhuravlev, who sits on the parliament’s defense committee, reportedly took things even further by suggesting that rather than trying to persuade newly-minted Russian citizens to enlist, the army should “take them by force.”

Russia’s migrant communities are already feeling the repercussions of this shift in official rhetoric.

The two-day raid that targeted a large produce warehouse in the south of St. Petersburg in mid-August turned up more than a hundred labor migrants with recently acquired Russian passports who were immediately taken for military registration.  Similar raids reportedly occurred in Belgorod, Cheboksary and Novocheboksarsk, Kurgan, Krasnodar, and Krasnoyarsk, with dozens of migrants forced to register for military service in each city.

Russian citizenship is usually a prized asset for migrants from economically stagnant Central Asian countries.  Unable to find gainful employment at home, Central Asians go to Russia in search of work and higher incomes.  In recent years, remittances (mainly from Russia) have totaled the equivalent of a third of Tajikistan’s GDP and a quarter of Kyrgyzstan’s (although there’s been a significant drop in remittances during the second year of the full-scale war).

According to Russian Interior Ministry data, labor migration from Central Asia hit a five-year high in 2022, with as many as 978,000 Kyrgyz, 3.5 million Tajiks, and 5.8 million Uzbeks entering Russia intending to work. (Some people have likely been counted twice in these figures, as they reflect the total number of registered border crossings).

But while Russia remains a popular destination, migrants there have long faced issues ranging from wage theft and ruthless bureaucracy to daily abuse, discrimination, and even death threats from law enforcement and ordinary Russians alike.

Russian citizenship can offer some protection against these daily challenges. Among other things, becoming a citizen means no longer having to collect the “myriad of interlinking documents migrants need to stay legal,” 

According to official statistics, more than 174,000 Tajiks, 23,000 Kyrgyz, and 27,000 Uzbeks acquired Russian citizenship in 2022.  Some even paid tens of thousands of rubles to middlemen who are known to forge documents and bribe officials on behalf of applicants. This makes the eventual passport holder, who may be unaware that their papers are fake, especially vulnerable to denaturalization threats.