The Cable

The Curious Case of the Soviet Citizen Trapped in 2017

The fall of the Soviet Union passes a prisoner by.


Fifty-eight-year-old Vasily Babina was released from Russian prison this month after nearly three decades behind bars. But his newfound freedom came with a very big asterisk: He’s technically still a citizen of the Soviet Union.

Babina was thrown in prison before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, back when his home country still existed. He served his sentence for burglary, robbery, and murder in a prison system near the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

Upon his release, he was handed back his Soviet passport and Yekaterinburg was handed a vexing legal quandary: what to do with the “last Soviet citizen.”

They think they’ve figured it out — though it’s not great news for Babina. A city court deemed Babina a “stateless person” and ruled he be detained (again) in a city migration center with other illegal immigrants through May, Russian news site E1.RU reported. That’s when the court will consider extending his detention until they sort out what still-existing country he belongs to.

Babina is originally from what is now Kazakhstan, where Russian officials hope to deport him. “The Ministry of Justice has decreed that it does not want Vasily Babina to remain in Russia…They haven’t explained why,” Roman Kachanov, his lawyer, told E1.RU. But activists are working to keep him in Russia to reunite him with family in the country’s Altai region, the Moscow Times reports.

Babina isn’t the only “stateless person.” There are groups of stateless groups of people across the world, often extremely oppressed minority groups such as the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Stateless people can have “difficulty accessing basic rights,” and face “a lifetime of obstacles and disappointment,” according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

The State Department estimates there are anywhere from 3.5 million to 12 million stateless people worldwide. But Babina’s case is unique; there appears to be no other reported cases of Soviet citizens in modern limbo.

Photo credit: SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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