Could Tovarisch Edward Snowden Be Drafted to Fight in Ukraine?

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Yesterday, Putin granted Russian citizenship to Edward Snowden. Could tovarisch Snowden now be drafted to fight in Ukraine? Russian law says yes, unless he has health problems or falls under one of the rare exceptions.


Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who exposed top-secret American surveillance systems and is still sought by Washington on espionage charges, was given citizenship by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. Snowden was the most well-known of the 72 foreigners who were subject to Putin’s directive. In 2013, after leaving the United States to avoid being prosecuted, Russia gave him refuge.

One of the most significant intelligence leaks in American history was done by Snowden. He revealed the existence of the NSA’s program, which was eventually shut down when a federal appeals court determined it to be illegal and was collecting the phone data of millions of Americans. Additionally, he provided information on a different program that included corporate cooperation with NSA intelligence collecting. The relationship between the intelligence establishment and the American IT sector was severely harmed by those revelations.

Russian law

The Federal Law “On Military Duty and Military Service” obliges citizens of the Russian Federation to register for military service, with rare exceptions. Naturalized citizens are also required to register with the military immediately after receiving citizenship. Such a person must appear at the military registration and enlistment office and undergo a medical examination, which will determine the category of fitness, from A to D. If a person is not fit and he has category D, he will not be registered. But if he is fit, he is given a military ID and enrolled in the reserve.

According to the law “On mobilization training and mobilization in the Russian Federation”, during mobilization, any citizen under 50 who is in the reserve and does not have the right to deferment can be called up. Snowden is now 39 years old. If he does not have health restrictions and the right to deferment, by law he may well be mobilized.

What if a naturalized Russian citizen has already served in the army of another state?

Such person can still be drafted into the Russian army.
Citizens who have served in the army of a state with which Russia has an international treaty are not called up as conscripts for military service. Now it applies only to Turkmenistan and Tajikistan .
However, those exceptions do not apply during the times of mobilization because there are no similar exceptions in the federal law On Mobilization Preparation and Mobilization. Meaning that any Russian (including naturalized foreigners like tovarisch Snowden) can be mobilized, including citizens of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

By the way, Edward Snowden served in the US military from May to September 2004. He left the service after breaking both legs, never completing his military training.

Does dual citizenship change anything?

No. Article 6 of the Federal Law “On Citizenship of the Russian Federation” states that people with dual citizenship are considered only as citizens of the Russian Federation, except for cases provided for by international treaties or federal laws. No laws and treaties provide for such exceptions during mobilization.

What if a foreigner renounces Russian citizenship?

It is difficult to say how such cases will be treated in practice, but in theory it can really help. The federal laws “On military duty and military service” and “On mobilization training and mobilization” impose duties only on citizens of Russia. A citizen of another state cannot be registered with the military and drafted into the army.

At the same time, a person may be denied renunciation of citizenship if he has “unfulfilled obligations” to the country, is accused in a criminal case, or is in prison. Unfulfilled obligations are not only unpaid taxes and duties, but also military duty for men from 18 to 27 years old. An application for renunciation of citizenship must be accompanied by a military ID with a mark of either the completion of the service or unfitness.

There is also a practical problem: even in peacetime, applications for renunciation of the Russian citizenship take up to a year to resolve.

Can natural-born Russians renounce their citizenship to avoid the draft?

There is a limitation: a person will be denied renunciation of citizenship if s/he does not have the citizenship of another country or “guarantees of its acquisition”. This means that an application for renunciation of citizenship must be accompanied by confirmation of another citizenship or a document in which the embassy or consulate of another country will confirm that a person is ready to be made a citizen in the near future.


According to Russian law, Edward Snowden is subject to being drafted on the same bases as any other Russian citizen.

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