Celebrities Russian for the exits

Edward Snowden is the latest in a line of star-studded Russian citizens.

PolyPassport covers the stories, people, and trends shaping multiple citizenship and global mobility. Thanks for being here.

What we're monitoring:

  • Russian for the exits. Celebrity style. Edward Snowden is the latest in a line of star-studded recipients of Russian citizenship.

  • Whispers of leniency in Luxembourg. We learn the country is poised to extend a deadline for citizenship once thought ironclad.

  • A line in the sand. St. Vincent and the Grenadines says its passports are not for sale.

The many celebrity faces of Russian citizenship

Love him or hate him, Edward Snowden is now a Russian citizen. Russian President Vladimir Putin granted citizenship to the former US security contractor in a decree that naturalized a total of 75 people.

Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013. He fled the United States to evade possible legal consequences from leaking top secret information that implicated his government in a wide-ranging surveillance program.

To his admirers, he's a blameless champion of data privacy. To detractors, he's guilty of high treason.

Edward Snowden speaking at a conference. Source: Social Income/Unsplash

Whatever he may be to you, citizenship makes him virtually untouchable. Russia's constitution explicitly forbids extraditing its citizens to other countries. Not to mention, there is no extradition treaty between Washington and Moscow.

If convicted in the United States, Snowden would face up to 30 years of prison time.

Snowden easily qualifies as Russia's most prominent new citizen of late. His acclaim (or perhaps notoriety) has netted him more than $1.2 million in speaking fees, according to a 2020 report.

But he's by no means the only foreign celebrity with a Russian passport.We looked at 5 other well-known names who've picked up Russian citizenship—or at least suggested they want it—over the years.

Gérard Depardieu: the celebrated French actor was granted Russian citizenship in 2013. Besides a much lower tax bill, Depardieu has reportedly enjoyed a number of properties gifted to him by officials in the country. But the government in Moscow is feeling a lot less generous as of late. Earlier this year, the French movie star criticized Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and in response parliamentarians have called on authorities to cancel Depardieu's passport. Depardieu's primary residence is believed to be in Belgium.

Yuko Kawaguti: figure skater Kawaguti (now known as Kavaguti) relinquished her Japanese citizenship in 2008 to represent Russia at the Olympic Games. She had been living and studying in Russia at the time of her naturalization. "Since I was a little girl I wanted to compete in the Olympics, so in the end I had to make that choice in order for me to fulfill my childhood dream," Yuko said in 2010.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa: One of the stars of the "Mortal Kombat" franchise, Tagawa became Russian in 2016 both legally and spiritually. Not only did he acquire a passport, he also converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity. “Russians are very strong in their belief in God. I haven’t seen it anywhere else,” he said.

Steven Segal: a black-belt martial artist and Hollywood actor, Segal received a Russian passport in 2016. He does not reside in the country but has made a name for himself as a full-throated supporter of the Russian President, including in his new capacity as a special envoy for Vladimir Putin in conflict-stricken Ukraine. 

Pamela Anderson: to be clear, the "Baywatch" star is not a citizen of Russia. But media reports from 2016 have her on record as being open to it. "I have a Canadian passport and an American passport. I would gladly have a Russian passport. It would be easier to get [to Russia]," she said. "I love Russia, she added. "I may have very strong connections with Russia. My mom is a little bit Russian, I guess, generations ago. So I feel a connection to the culture and people. I think that Russians really get things done."

Update: Luxembourg may extend citizenship deadline

Credit: Cedriv Letsch/Unsplash

We reported last week that Luxembourg set December 31 of this year as their deadline to travel to the country and finalize one's ancestral claim to a passport. But that may soon change.

Daniel Atz of Luxcitizenship has now confirmed to PolyPassport that the Grand Duchy is poised to vote on extending the deadline to December 31, 2025. The decision is expected to come at "the very last minute" and is the result of a massive backlog. The team processing applications amounts to only about 8 people, and some 10,000 applicants still haven't been able to fulfill the requirements.

"What's happening right now is unprecedented for them," Atz reported.

St. Vincent and Grenadines bucks the trend on golden passports

Tobago Cays in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Source: Bradley Wade/Unsplash

Speaking to members of the diaspora at an event in New York City, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said his country would not set up a citizenship by investment program. "“The citizenship of our country is not for sale,” he said. “We believe in hard work,” he added. "If you can put citizenship and passports on the market, you can put anything on the market."

Five countries in the Caribbean, including Dominica and St. Kitts Nevis, offer passports in exchange for an investment in the national economy, usually on the order of $150,000.

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Quote of the week

"After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our SONS. After two years of waiting and nearly ten years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family. I pray for privacy for them—and for us all."

Edward Snowden's response on Twitter after receiving Russian citizenship in a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.