Economics Rather than Politics Reason So Many Young Russians Want to Move Abroad, Volkov Says

Cash, Calculator, Pen

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, Nov. 29, 2019)

Because until relatively recently Russians could not move abroad freely, the issue of emigration remains very “politicized,” Denis Volkov says, with supporters of the regime calling those who want to leave or do traitors and opponents saying that emigration can be blamed on “the bloody Putin regime.”

But while there certainly are some Russians who move abroad for political reasons – something partially confirmed by polls showing that opponents of the regime are more inclined to do so than supporters (, most do so for social and economic reasons, the commentator says (

These reasons include “the unstable economic situation in Russia and widespread notions that abroad one can provide for oneself and one’s children a life of comfort and well-being.” And to achieve that, many Russians are prepared to accept for a time low-paid work in Western countries.

The number of Russians thinking about emigrating tracks with international tensions. When they are high, fewer do; when the tensions ease, more. At present, Volkov says, attitudes about emigration are returning to where they were before the Crimean Anschluss.

Younger Russians who did not experience Soviet life, who live in major cities, and who know English – nearly a third of them do – are more likely to consider living abroad than other Russians. For them, “Western culture – music, films, books, fashionable clothing – has long become an inalienable part of their lives and a constituent element of their identity.”

For such young Russians, moving abroad is less of a break than it is for their elders. But despite that, Volkov continues, “polls show that the share of citizens who undertake real steps for moving abroad, has remained practically unchanged for a quarter of a century and hardly exceeds one percent of the adult population of the country.”

That means, he says, that when one talks about attitudes favoring emigration, this term should be put “in quotation marks.” Even more, Russians should change the way in which they discuss this issue and broaden it in significant ways. In most leading countries, people no longer speak about “brain drains” but rather about “a global competition for talent.”

“In this competition, what is important is not so much the ability to hold home-grown cadres as to attract to oneself the best specialists from the entire world,” Volkov argues. Approaching the issue in this way raises an entirely different set of questions which few Russians are yet asking.

Who and from where are people coming to Russia? Can Russia attract more qualified specialists from other countries? How easy will it be for them to adapt to Russian conditions? And “are local citizens ready to accept them as they are?” These are not trivial issues in and of themselves.

But what is more, Volkov concludes, is that “the demographic situation in Russia is such that with the passing of time we will depend ever more on Russia’s ability to attract people from other countries.” That is not something Russians have been discussing but it is an issue they must turn their attention to.

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