Polls Show Record Low Number of Russians Willing to Permanently Move Abroad

Truck at Russian Border Crossing

(Russia Matters – russiamatters.org – Simon Saradzhyan – April 12, 2024)

The share of Russians who would like to leave Russia for permanent residence in another country has reached a record low, according to the results of a national poll conducted by Russia’s Levada Center on March 21-27, 2024.This center has been measuring Russians’ attitudes toward emigration since 1990, registering peaks in the share of Russians who would like to leave for greener pastures in May 2011, May 2013 and May 2021. In all three instances, the share of Russians who answered “definitely yes” or “likely yes” when asked “Would you like to move abroad for permanent residence?” totaled 22% (see Figure 1). In comparison, Levada’s more recent measurements show that right after Vladimir Putin sent troops to re-invade Ukraine in February 2022, this share was 10% (March 2022), which then increased to 11% in February 2023, before declining again in March 2024 to an all-time record low of 9%. At the same time, in the period since Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine, the share of those who would not want to move abroad increased from 79% to a record high of 90% (see Figure 1). These measurements by Levada, which is the most renowned of Russia’s independent pollsters in spite of increasing constraints on the activities of such pollsters, aligns with the findings of the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), which claims that its March 2024 poll revealed that the share of Russians who want to leave Russia for permanent residency abroad and the share of Russians who don’t reached a record low (5%) and a record high (93%), respectively, since 1991.

To some extent, the recent decreases in the share of those who’d like to leave Russia, as measured by Levada, may be explained by the departure of up to 920,000 people from Russia in 2022-2024, with these emigres no longer participating in Levada’s polls. That said, one should not overestimate the impact of the departure of less than 1% of Russia’s population on Russia’s domestic public opinions. The latter is probably influenced much more heavily by the increasing persecution of individual freedoms of speech coupled with a surge in Russians’ reporting of political dissent to the authorities. Together, this makes an increasing number of people reluctant to speak their minds to a person on the phone identifying themselves as a pollster. The Kremlin’s efforts to boost what some call patriotism and others call propaganda may have also played a significant role in shaping Russians’ opinions on the acceptability of leaving Russia for good, especially after the launch of the invasion that the Kremlin initially called a “special military operation” in Ukraine, but which it now describes as a war against the West with Russia’s very existence at stake.

Many of those who did leave Russia after the invasion were young, with one March 2023 survey by OK Russians putting the average age of those who had left at 32. That younger Russians are more inclined to leave follows from Levada’s March 2024 poll as well, but even among young Russians, those who would like to stay constitute a distinct majority. When asked by Levada in March 2024 whether they would like to move abroad permanently, 12% of Russians of all ages answered in the affirmative. In comparison, 15% of both 18-24-year-olds and 25-39-year-olds responded affirmatively (see Table 1).

Moreover, concern about being called up to participate in Russia’s war in Ukraine was far from the top reason behind Russians’ desires to relocate in March 2024. When asked what makes them think about leaving Russia (multiple answers allowed), mobilization fears ranked 10th with 16%. The top three reasons for wanting to move were: the desire to ensure a decent future for their children abroad (43%); the political situation in Russia (36%); and the economic situation in Russia (also 36%, see Table 2). Of the countries Russians were eager to relocate to, the U.S. topped the list (11%), followed by Germany (8%) and Italy and Turkey (6% each). China ranked 10-11 along with Canada (each with 3%, see Table 3). That seven out of the top 11 countries Russians would like to relocate to are members of the collective West, with 46% interested in moving to these countries, also shows the limits of the Kremlin’s efforts to instill anti-Western sentiments in the Russian public.

The intensity of the intention to relocate should not be overestimated, however. When asked to what extent they are ready to permanently relocate abroad, 0% said they were collecting and preparing documents for departure (also 0% in February 2022), and 0% said they had made a firm decision to leave (1% in February 2022). Some 3% said they are thinking about relocation options (6% in February 2022), and 7% said they sometimes think about it. Meanwhile, 89% said they have not thought about relocating, compared to 78% in February 2022.

Finally, not every Russian takes kindly to their relocating compatriots, to put it mildly. When asked who they think is leaving Russia today (asked in March 2024, multiple answers allowed), 43% said “traitors.” Only 13% described those leaving Russia to settle in other countries as “smart, educated, talented people,” with another 13% saying these emigres wanted to ensure their children’s future (see Table 4).

Simon Saradzhyan is the founding director of Russia Matters.Opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

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