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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia to Defend Citizens Abroad

The Russian Foreign Ministry is working on a wide-ranging program to protect the rights of the millions of Russians outside the Russian Federation, Izvestia reported Thursday.

The ambitious program, which the newspaper said could ultimately cost as much 3 trillion rubles, would formalize Moscow's support for the estimated 25 million Russians in the so-called "near abroad," who have become a source of discord between Russia and the ex-Soviet republics.

The project would set up a radio station and television program specifically designed for Russians abroad, the newspaper said, citing one of the authors of the program, Teimuraz Ramishvili, the head of the Foreign Minister's Department of International Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights.

There would also be a section designed to "create the institution of double citizenship," Izvestia said.

Russia might also use the program to recommend discontinuing fuel exports to "countries where the rights of ethnic Russians are infringed," Izvestia said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Nikolai Demurin told a press conference last week that the program existed in draft form and that the government might ask parliament to allocate funds for it.

"We feel that diplomatic measures are not enough," he said, explaining the rationale behind drawing up the plan.

The issue of ethnic Russians outside Russia has become the primary bone of contention between Moscow and its neighbors following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who himself grew up in Kazakhstan, made great play of it in his electoral campaign.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have left the Central Asian and Transcaucasian republics for Russia in the last 2 1/2 years.

In the last two months Moscow has issued a series of stern statements to Latvia and Estonia about "human rights violations" against ethnic Russians. Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev brought up the issue at his talks with his British counterpart Douglas Hurd on Tuesday.