15:55 Jun. 1, 2016
Kyiv contemplates granting Ukrainian citizenship to infamous Russian tycoon
Konstantin Grigorishin, that name is not that familiar in the western media, however, Grigorishin has earned quite a reputation for himself in Russia. Dubbed a scandalous billionaire, Grigorishin who has Ukrainian background is now seeking Ukrainian citizenship.
The Russian tycoon says he wants his documents to be considered in a simplified process, according to Ukraine's migration laws.
This would have been a standard procedure if only there was no but... but Grigorishin's application for Ukrainian passport directly coincides with a criminal case launched against him in Russia. This is where authorities are charging him with tax avoidance adding up to about USD 11 Million.
A Russian court ordered to apprehend Grigorishin the moment he crosses the Ukrainian-Russian border. The billionaire, though, says this is outrages as he is politically repressed in Moscow all because of his outspoken support for Kyiv.
But the case in Russia isn't the first and only inquiry into the magnate's financial history. Several of Grigorishin's main assets are located in Ukraine.
In late 2015 Ukrainian MP Anton Herashchenko claimed, the country's law enforcers initiated a criminal investigation against Grigorishin over corruption and tax dodging. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov also confirmed the existence of numerous criminal cases against Grigorishin. Furthermore, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk publically accused the Russian businessman of stealing money from the Ukrainian budget by controlling the energy sector "from the shadows".
"They steal the budget money and then use it to finance anti-Ukraine political forces and report to the FSB. Like Grigorishin, for example. He's clearly an (FSB) agent", Yatsenyuk stated in January 2016.
Despite this, Ukraine did not deny citizenship to Grigorishin immediately. Even though he already has two official citizenships - Russian and Cypriot.
"The Constitution doesn't mention any reasons to deny citizenship to a person originating from Ukraine. So any criminal investigations against the person in Ukraine, or, for example, in Russia cannot affect our decision to consider his request", a statement published on the website of Ukraine's migration service reads.
This lack of the migration service's pro-active measures when it comes to Grigorishin and denial of his application drew major criticism from Ukrainian officials and activists.
"Hundreds of foreign volunteers, who shed their blood for Ukraine, cannot get our passport. And this oligarch, who has business with the occupiers in Luhansk and Crimea, who is suspected of financial crimes, could receive our citizenship (and according to some sources, has already received)", Ukrainian MP Andriy Levus posted on Facebook.
The lawmaker is convinced, Grigorishin is pursuing his own interests by trying to escape the trial in Russia. He says, he's going to ask the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the government to not only decline Grigorishin's request, but also impose sanctions against him.
Levus's position regarding Grigorishin is echoed throughout the country. Leaving many to wonder why the oligarch was offered a simplified procedure in the first place. Especially when many other Russians, persecuted by Moscow for their public support of Ukraine, are unable to gain the country's citizenship for years.
According to the Ukrainian media outlet Ukrayinska Pravda, 79 Russians applied for refugee status in Ukraine in 2015. Only seven applications were approved by Kyiv. And around 1200 Russians were forcibly extradited from the country.
Among those, hoping to get Ukrainian passports are Russian journalists, human rights defenders, and military volunteers. They all claim to face oppressions by Moscow for their opposition to the Kremlin.
One of them is a Russian psychologist Pyotr Lyubchenkov. His alleged crime was several online posts condemning the Kremlin's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. After the "publications" he started receiving phone threats. Russian police even detained him for 10 days.
In June 2014 he fled to Ukraine. But as of January 2016, all his applications for political asylum have been rejected. And now the Ukrainian authorities are aiming to extradite him.
"I strongly advise them against traveling to Ukraine and asking for political asylum. If you are in danger, you had better ask another country. Ukraine is not a safe place for refugees from Russia", Pyotr Lyubchenkov stated during an interview with RFE/FL.
Despite many denied cases there are a few approvals out there. But they are too few compared to the overall amount of Russian dissidents. The case of former Russian FSB officer Ilya Bogdanov is perhaps, the most notable. Bogdanov escaped Russia and joined Ukraine's military in summer 2014. He was one of the soldiers who defended the infamous Donetsk airport. He also said, the FSB tried to kill him three times for his treachery.
Bogdanov managed to obtain the Ukrainian citizenship almost a year after he moved to Ukraine. He is one of the few lucky Russian volunteers and dissidents. According to Bogdanov, as well as deputy Levus, there could be hundreds more people, eager to avoid the fate of Boris Nemtsov, a critic of President Putin, murdered for his speeches right outside the Kremlin building.
So why Ukraine is denying them asylum? The country's migration service itself generally does not provide the details. Thus, leaving activists and human rights groups to draw their own conclusions.
"There are way too many declines for Russians. Maybe Ukraine is afraid, that after getting the citizenship they will try to destabilize the county. But, I think, there are reasons to talk about blatant incompetence among those, who make these decisions", Ukrainian human rights activist Maksym Butkevych said in an interview with BBC Ukraine.
The activists are sure, the amount of Russian refugees will only continue to grow. Recently, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree, providing a simplified procedure of gaining the citizenship for foreign military volunteers. This could be a positive sign for the Kremlin opponents overall. In the end, they are still waiting for the President to fulfill his promise, given in April 2015, to do the same for all Russians, oppressed for their position in their homeland.