Powered by IR Society at NYU

IR Insider is a production of NYU's International Relations Society. Our goal is to explain and discuss issues in IR in an engaging and thought-provoking fashion. We are written by students, for students, about issues students care about. 

The Russian Elite Seek Maltese Citizenship

Malta’s Individual Investor Program (IIP), a citizenship program aimed at attracting high-profile members of the business community, is receiving notable attention from the Russian elite. The program, often colloquially referred to as cash-for-passport, has qualifications that ensure an affluent applicant pool. Stipulations for applicants include “acquisition of real estate with a minimum value of EUR 350,000 to be held for at least 5 years” and “an investment in stocks, bonds or special purpose vehicles to be identified by Identity Malta, for a minimum value of EUR 150,000 to be held for a minimum period of 5 years”. Upon admission, the applicant and each dependent they choose to list must pay a fee ranging from 50,000 to 650,000 euros per head.

In 2016, Russian nationals were generously represented on the list of new Maltese citizens the released by the government. The list itself does not differentiate between those who did and did not apply through the IIP. However, it lists the names of many high profile Russian businessmen including Arkady Volozh, the founder of Yandex, Russia’s predominant internet search engine. Volozh has reportedly up until now maintained a cooperative relationship with the Kremlin, as a board member of Russia’s largest state bank. Yet the acquisition of citizenship for Volozh and his family is indicative of his weakened faith in Russia’s tech sector.

This illustrates that despite the Kremlin’s efforts to increase corporate nationalism, recent sanctions imposed by the EU and US, mitigate Russian business leaders’ ability to place their absolute confidence in the country’s economic future. Fiscally, the Russian oligarchs do not have an incentive to immediately transfer all their investments and capital interests out of Russia because it’s the cite of the majority of their assets. However, a Maltese citizenship allows for a quick exit option if necessary.

The Russian president began his official campaign trail on January 3rd with a tour of a factory in Tver. With a steep approval rating of 83 percent, stringent control over the media apparatus and a weakened opposition, there is a low likelihood that Putin will lose the election. His pre-eminent concern is maintaining a level of enthusiasm around the campaign itself to project a heightened sense of nationalism and universal morale. Thus, the rise in Russian’s seeking Maltese citizenships sends a symbol that runs contrary to the Kremlin’s agenda.