Russia strips exiled climate striker, family of citizenship

LONDON (AP) — A Moscow court stripped an exiled climate and antiwar activist who once was known as Russia's “lone climate striker” of his Russian citizenship Monday.

The court also revoked the citizenship of activist Arshak Makichyan's father, who remains in Russia, and two brothers. According to statements by Makichyan and his lawyers, all four men were rendered stateless.

Makichyan, an ally of Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg now living in Berlin, made headlines in 2019 with a string of solo protests on Moscow's Pushkin Square that lasted for months. Last year, he tried to run for parliament and to help another opposition candidate with her campaign.

In recent months, he repeatedly spoke out against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The decision to strip Armenian-born Makichyan and his relatives of their Russian nationality followed a court ruling last week that they provided false information when applying for citizenship in 2004, when Makichyan was 10 years old.

The activist's lawyer, Olga Podopelova, strongly denied that her client or his family sought to mislead Russian authorities. In a written statement, she said Russia was using earlier procedural mistakes as a pretext for stripping the four men of citizenship.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Makichyan described the court ruling as retaliation for his political activities. He said he became aware of the case against him in May as he and his wife mulled whether to return to Russia amid the Kremlin's ongoing crackdown on antiwar and other dissenting voices.

“We were trying to decide what to do next and considering returning to Russia when I was notified that a civil case had been launched against me,” Makichyan told the AP.

Makichyan and his partner, fellow activist Polina Oleinikova, got married on February 24, the day Russian troops began invading Ukraine. The couple left for Germany four weeks into the war, following the Kremlin's brutal dispersal of protests.

Makichyan is appealing for international help as he and his relatives continue to contest the citizenship case in Russian courts.

“I don't intend to ask for asylum (in Germany). I'm hoping for a reaction from European politicians, for their help in resolving this unprecedented situation,” he said.

The court verdict doesn't take effect until the appeal process concludes, so his father and brothers have not lost their right to remain in Russia, Makichyan said. His German visa is valid until the end of the year.

In the meantime, several Russian businessmen have renounced their citizenship voluntarily.

Russian business tycoon Oleg Tinkov said he decided to renounce his Russian nationality over the war in Ukraine, which he has regularly spoken out against.

Tinkov, who has lived abroad in recent years and says he was forced to sell his business assets in Russia at a loss because of his anti-war position, announced the decision Monday on Instagram.

“I can't look at all this and be associated with Putin's fascism!” the founder of the Tinkoff Bank said in a post that featured a photo of what appeared to be a document certifying his renunciation of Russian citizenship.

The post has since disappeared from his account, which Tinkov blamed on the “Kremlin's trolls” in a new post Tuesday reiterating his decision. It wasn't immediately clear what other nationality he holds.

British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported Monday that Nikolay Storonsky, co-founder of the financial technology company Revolut, also renounced his Russian citizenship. Storonsky holds a British passport, the newspaper said, and his father — a director at Gazprom Promgaz, an arm of the state-controlled Russian energy giant — was recently sanctioned.

Earlier this month, billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner said on Twitter that he and his family gave up their Russian passports.

Makichyan expressed doubts about the billionaires' motives. In a series of tweets published Tuesday morning, he appeared to highlight their privileged position compared to activists such as himself.

“Russian billionaires are refusing (their) Russian citizenship. I am fighting for it. We are different,” Makichyan wrote.

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Associated Press writer Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed.

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Joanna Kozlowska, The Associated Press