A woman walks in front of police officers before the Russian nationalists march in downtown Moscow during a May Day rally on May 1, 2014. / Pavel Golovkin, AP
MOSCOW - Anti-American sentiment here is growing as Russia responds to Western sanctions over Ukraine, and that is worrying expats and foreigners in this country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law this week making it a criminal offense to fail to report dual citizenship. It's a bid to keep track of potential foreign agents. Russian citizens who also hold a U.S. passport or one from another country have 60 days to notify the Federal Migration Service of their status or face a fine of nearly $6,000.
A survey published Thursday by the Levada Center, an independent pollster, shows that 71% of Russians view the United States "badly" or "very badly" - the highest in more than 20 years, with more positive attitudes registered during the Soviet era.
While that hasn't translated into outright aggression, it is sparking some additional curiosity toward foreigners in the street.
"My husband ... recently had the experience of running into a man in a store who didn't like that our son was communicating in English," said Natalia Antonova, a Ukrainian-American journalist and playwright who lives in Moscow.
The man, Antonova said, told them that their son "shouldn't be" bilingual. " 'Just teach him Russian. It's for the best.' The man wasn't aggressive or anything. He just explained that he's a patriot, and it's important to encourage patriotic feelings."
Russia has highlighted the political motive of the new law, pointing to potential "enemies." It comes after Russia annexed Ukraine's breakaway republic of Crimea in March, prompting sanctions from the U.S. against Russian officials and businessmen close to Putin.
"This is part of a policy in which (Russia) is trying to reduce foreign influence on its citizens," said sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of Kryshtanovskaya Laboratory. The dual-citizenship law, she said, is directed primarily at the elites, many of whom keep their money and take their vacations abroad."
At least 74,000 people in Russia have a second passport, the country's migration service said last month.
The new law - and the threat of a possible fine - has some Russian-Americans in Moscow fearful of what might come next.
"I have no idea how it could affect me in the future, with the very uncertain political situation at the moment, especially since my second citizenship is United States," said Maria Stambler, a Moscow-based copywriter who grew up in Warwick, R.I.
"I love my country - Russia - and will stand by it no matter what," Stambler said. "But if things get even worse with the States, and I get in any kind of trouble or am forced to choose between the two countries, I really don't know what I would do."
Igor Vittel, a talk-show host with dual citizenship, said he is concerned about the new law.
"In Russia's current reality, it could be used against people with difficult relations with the government," he said. Vittel still plans to register with authorities to avoid prosecution. "Why make yourself a target?"
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