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by John Helmer, Moscow

Mikhail Mishustin, the prime minister appointed by President Vladimir Putin on the evening of January 15, would be disqualified from holding office when the new eligibility rule which Putin proposed earlier that day becomes law. This is because Mishustin’s mother is reported to be of Armenian nationality, and under Armenian law that automatically entitles Mishustin to “live permanently in a foreign state”.

“State service is to serve the people,” Putin announced in his Federal Assembly speech, launching a set of constitutional proposals now moving to enactment in the State Duma. “Those who enter this path must know that by doing this they inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances. I suggest formalising at the constitutional level the obligatory requirements for those who hold positions of critical significance for national security and sovereignty. More precisely, the heads of the constituent entities, members of the Federation Council, State Duma deputies, the prime minister and his/her deputies, federal ministers, heads of federal agencies and judges should have no foreign citizenship or residence permit or any other document that allows them to live permanently in a foreign state.”

To address widespread reporting of Mishustin’s Armenian connection in the Russian and Armenian press, Mishustin’s spokesman at the Prime Ministry was asked: “What response does the Prime Minister make to press reporting that his mother was of Armenian nationality? What is the maiden name of the Prime Minister’s mother?” The spokesman did not respond on the telephone, and asked for an email.  Mishustin refuses to answer.

No ruling prime minister has been identified in Europe who refuses to disclose his mother’s name.  By Kremlin standards, the disclosure of the new prime minister’s background has been unusually scant and secretive.

Much detail and several years are missing from Mishustin’s official biography.  He was born on March 3, 1966, near Moscow. His first 23 years have not been reported, including the names of his father and mother; their birthplaces and occupations; and the names and locations of their son’s primary and secondary schools. Although the parents would now be in their late 70s, there is no official confirmation that they are alive or dead. According to this press report from Tartarstan, Mishustin has said his father is dead.

Mishustin’s post-graduate employment, including military or special service training after his university graduation in 1992, is also unclear. Mishustin himself has been reported as saying he was exempt from Army service.

Russian press reports have identified his father’s name as Vladimir Moiseyevich Mishustin, born in 1939 at Polotsk, then the Byelorussian republic of the Soviet Union. There is no official information about his occupation. Some reports claim he was a career KGB officer who served abroad. There is less information about Mishustin’s mother, and no certainty about her names or place of birth.

The conviction that she is Armenian started with the Armenian community in Moscow, with amplification in Yerevan. This reporting stops short of noticing whether Mishustin’s mother holds Armenian citizenship under current Armenian law; and whether she did at the time of her son’s birth in 1966, or subsequent to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and independence of Armenia in December 1991. These details weren’t significant until now.

The Armenian law on citizenship appears to allow Mishustin’s mother to have retained her Armenian citizenship when or if she took a Russian passport so long as she did not renounce her Armenian national right when she did so.  The Armenian law can be followed here.   Since dual citizenship is allowed to Mishustin’s mother, the eligibility for Armenian citizenship appears to have been automatic for her son. The documents substantiating this would be Mishustin’s mother’s birth certificate, her Soviet registration, her Soviet and possibly her Russian passports.

Except for a handful of his Armenian friends, relatives, business acquaintances, and reporters,   Mishustin’s Armenian eligibility would be unremarkable if not for Putin’s announcement of last month curtailing the eligibility of high state officials if they hold dual nationality, foreign residence permits, or benefit from “any other document that allows them to live permanently in a foreign state.”  

A constitutional tangle like this is not unprecedented. It has been tripping up members of parliament and a deputy prime minister in Australia since 2017. That’s because of the provision in the Australian Constitution which says that a person who “is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power… shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.” There have been several tests of this disqualification in the Australian High Court. Read more here   and here.

Article 1, section 1, of the draft law, which Putin sent to the Duma to implement his constitutional proposals, says: “1) paragraph ‘t’ of article 71 should be worded as follows: ‘t) Federal state service; establishment of restrictions for filling state and municipal positions, positions of state and municipal service, including restrictions related to the presence of citizenship of a foreign state or a residence permit or other document confirming the right to permanent residence of a citizen of the Russian Federation on the territory of a foreign state’.”

Prime Minister Mishustin  took office on January 16, the day after Dmitry Medvedev resigned.  The website of the Prime Minister and Government reported Medvedev’s last meetings on January 14. However, the website reported nothing for more than two weeks until January 30 when Mishustin reportedly discussed the coronavirus at a meeting of ministers.   See: http://premier.gov.ru/en/

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