Kyrgyz Workers With Russian Citizenship Prevented From Leaving Russia, Urged To Fight In Ukraine

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The fear of a fresh military mobilization by Moscow to support its war in Ukraine has prompted many Kyrgyz workers in Russia to return to their home country. But some of the workers who have got Russian passports, and are eligible for the military draft, say they have been prevented from leaving Russia in recent weeks.

Bekbolat, a Kyrgyz man who became a Russian citizen several years ago, said he was stopped by Russian border guards on December 22, 2022, when he tried to cross into Kazakhstan en route to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

"Russian border guards explained to me quite politely that 'you are included in a mobilization list, this is the law, and you have no right to go abroad until February 12,'" Bekbolat told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on January 17, without elaborating on why the February date was given.

The Moscow-based worker, who didn't want to give his full name, doesn't rule out that he will be forced to go to fight in Ukraine for Russian forces that launched a full-scale invasion on February 24.

Bekbolat, who is in 50s, said some of his Kyrgyz acquaintances -- also naturalized Russian citizens -- had received summons from recruitment centers after Moscow announced a military mobilization on September 21, 2022.

According to Bekbolat, several Kyrgyz men "close to 60 years old" were sent to Ukraine despite their age.

Bekbolat said he had been summoned to his local recruitment office in Moscow recently but didn't give an exact date. He said he was released after an interview and with a warning that desertion from the armed forces would be strongly punished.

"They made it very clear. They told me any [Russian citizen] who left Russia after the September [2022] mobilization and those who are leaving now would face severe consequences," Bekbolat said.

RFE/RL cannot independently verify Bekbolat's claims, but many other naturalized Russian citizens have reported being stopped at the border.

Zafar, a Tajik migrant worker from the Siberian city of Surgut, told RFE/RL that his 33-year-old cousin -- a naturalized Russian citizen -- was prevented from crossing into Kazakhstan.

"He was sent back to Surgut, while others traveling with him were allowed to go [back] home [to Central Asia], because they didn't have Russian passports," said Zafar, who didn't want to give his full name. "The border guards told my cousin that conscript-age Russian men can't go abroad for the time being."

Another Mobilization?

Moscow has denied it is planning another military draft. But intelligence officials and experts in Ukraine and Russia have predicted that another call-up could happen soon. It has sparked anxiety among Central Asians in Russia -- both Russian passport holders and those who live and work there with temporary residency permits.

Adding to their fears, the chief of Russia's Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, recently said naturalized citizens must participate in Moscow's war in Ukraine.

In an interview to Russian media on January 13, Bastrykin said some 550,000 people from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have obtained Russian passports in the past five years. In the first half of 2022 alone, more than 60,000 adults from these three countries received Russian citizenship, he said.

They now have an obligation to defend the country, Bastrykin added. He also said Russia must offer incentives -- such as a simplified Russian citizenship procedure -- to other migrants to attract them to take part in what Moscow calls a special military operation in Ukraine.

There have been many reports that noncitizen migrants and even prisoners from Central Asia were sent to Ukraine -- some to fight among the Russian forces as contractors, others to work as drivers or builders in Russian-occupied territories. Their number is not known.

Russia hosts millions of migrant workers from Central Asia. Governments around the region have warned their citizens against taking part in foreign military conflicts.

Politicians in Bishkek have warned Kyrgyz workers holding Russian passports that Kyrgyzstan might not be able to help them if they run into trouble trying to escape mobilization.

Russia doesn't have a dual nationality agreement with Kyrgyzstan and, therefore, it doesn't recognize naturalized citizens' original Kyrgyz nationality.

Kyrgyz politician Emilbek Kaptagaev says Russia has the right to treat its citizens according to its laws, and there is not much Kyrgyzstan can do if Russian authorities conscript their nationals into the army -- even if they were born in Kyrgyzstan.

"Indeed, in theory, every citizen has a legal obligation to serve their country," Kaptagaev said. "Russian authorities would say, whether you are an ethnic Russian, Kyrgyz, Uyghur, or Dungan, you're a Russian citizen and hence you're required to fulfill your obligations to the state."

It's not known how many naturalized Russian citizens from Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries have been recruited to the Russian Army to fight in Ukraine.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.