Will ending dual citizenship increase security?

Since the return of open war to Europe, Russian citizenship has returned as a subject of speculation in Finland's security policy debate. However, banning dual citizenship causes downright harm from the perspective of comprehensive security.

ALEKSANTERI INSIGHT 4/2023 In an atmosphere overshadowed by Russia's war against Ukraine, fears and threats have understandably become key points of discussions. On 31 August, Professor Kari Liuhto highlighted Russian dual citizenship as a security problem. After that the editorial of Helsingin Sanomat, the MEP Ville Niinistö, the Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen, and the President Sauli Niinistö among others, have called for the countering of Russia's hybrid threat by banning dual citizenship from Russian citizens. However, according to our studies carried out in the Multilayered Borders of Global Security (GLASE) among other projects, these proposals may even be harmful for comprehensive security.

It remains unclear in the speeches to the public how exactly ending dual citizenship would make it more difficult for Russia to operate abroad. The Russian intelligence services cannot be expected to respect legal agreements in such a way that nationality restrictions would significantly hinder their “active measures”.

From the point of view of Russia's so-called compatriot policy, the protection of its citizens was a formal reason for the war against Georgia, but usually the Russian language alone has served as a pretext for intervening in other countries’ affairs. In addition, Russian international and domestic propaganda channels are full of examples of people from different countries who support Russia's strategic communication regardless of their nationality.

In today's world, security is a multi-level and multi-dimensional matter. To improve the security of a multi-ethnic society such as Finland, efforts must be made to increase social cohesion. For example, Associate Professor Pasi Saukkonen (HS 31 August) has therefore recommended developing a new and more sustainable concept of “us” in the current social realities.

Already in 2015, a report on the demand of the President was made on dual citizenship in Finland and its neighbourhood. After that, the right of dual citizens to operate in the security sector was restricted following revisions of the recruitment assessment criteria of applicant’s foreign ties. Our study in the GLASE research project revealed that many Russian-speakers felt that they were specifically targeted by these measures.

Because of stereotypes, threat speech impacts not only some 30,000 Russian citizens living in Finland, but also a group of Russian-speakers three times larger than that. Repeated threat scenarios in discussions damage their confidence in society and, more broadly, exacerbate the general climate of mistrust. 

As highlighted in our Images of Russia across Eurasia and Transnational Death projects, from an individual’s perspective, the renunciation of Russian citizenship does not cut social ties with Russia, such as social relations, property ownership and media consumption. Many retain citizenship because of the existence of cross-border family relationships. Moreover, renouncing citizenship requires considerable effort to acquire the various documents and information required by the Russian authorities.

Instead of encouraging a climate of mistrust, it would be better to promote integration. Already in the Finland's Russian-speaking media users research project in 2016, we presented measures to strengthen Russian-language media activities produced in Finland. They would better promote the sense of belonging of our country's diverse population and thus comprehensive security.

Olga Davydova-Minguet is the Professor of Russian and Border Studies at the Karelian Institute of the University of Eastern Finland.

Teemu Oivo works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Karelian Institute of the University of Eastern Finland.