Lithuania strips citizenship from retired Olympic ice skater for support for Russia

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda stripped retired Olympic figure skater Margarita Drobiazko of her Lithuanian citizenship on Friday for her support for Russia.

Once ruled from Moscow but now a member of both European Union and NATO, Lithuania has emerged as a main critic of Russia and supporter of Ukraine following the Russian invasion last year.

Drobiazko, 52, was born in Moscow and was raised and trained in what was then the Soviet Union, but she was granted Lithuanian citizenship in 1993.

Together with her Lithuanian partner, she represented Lithuania in five Olympic Games. Their highest achievement was taking fifth place in Salt Lake City in 2002.

The president's citizenship advisory board voted in favour of removing Drobiazko's citizenship on Thursday, due to her "public support for the Russian federation".

Earlier, the Migration Department said Drobiazko had broken her oath by cooperating with Russia and so discrediting Lithuania. It pointed to Drobiazko's professional and personal relationship with Tatiana Navka, figure skater wife of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Nauseda stripped Drobiazko and her partner of Lithuanian state decoration last year, after they danced in a skating show in Sochi, Russia, which was presented by Navka.

In a submission to the citizenship advisory board, filed in the Russian language, Drobiazko said said she believes her dancing in ice shows in Russia strenghtened the prestige of Lithuania on the world stage.

She added that the believed both Russia and Ukraine "need emotional support to avoid descending into animalistic hate".

"As far as I understand, I am charged with not publicly expressing my political position. But don't I have the right, according to the Constitution of Lithuania, not to voice my position if I cannot, do not want or am not ready to do so?" she said in the submission.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Angus MacSwan)