Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Power Vertical

Emigration Blues: Russia's Sixth Brain Drain

The sixth wave of Russian emigration is underway -- and as in the past it appears to be claiming some of the country's best and brightest.

As noted in yesterday's web roundup, political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin has an interesting piece in the latest issue of "Novaya gazeta" looking at earlier emigration waves from Russia and the Soviet Union, and at the reasons why people are leaving the country now.

Sergei Stepashin, head of the Audit Chamber, says approximately 1.25 million Russians have left the country permanently in the last several years.

That figure is less than the two million who left in the two waves in the early 20th century -- immediately after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and following the advent of the Stalin-era terror in the 1930s. It is also slightly more than the estimated one million who fled the USSR in both the World War II era and in the 1970s. (The fifth wave was the mainly economically motivated exodus that immediately followed the Soviet collapse in the 1990s, the so-called "sausage emigration.")

So why are Russians leaving now?

According to an online poll of 7237 readers of "Novaya gazeta" who are considering emigrating (which Paul Goble points out in a post today is not the most representative sample),  2.2 percent cited rising nationalism, one percent said higher taxes, and 28.9 percent identified the possibility of Vladimir Putin returning as president. Most interestingly, a whopping 62.5 percent said they were considering leaving for all of these reasons combined.

The overriding sentiment among the potential emigres, Oreshkin writes, is dashed hopes:

It's basically just those who in the 1990's, because of their youth and innate optimism, believed that freedom would finally come and Russia would become a normal country. The Putin decade sobered them up.  You can't get anything if you father is not a KGB colonel, a member of United Russia, or an employee of Gazprom.

Earlier waves of emigration deprived Russia of some of its best minds, including writers Vladimir Nabokov and Ivan Bunin, aviator Igor Sikorsky, inventor and television technology pioneer Vladimir Zworykin. And as Oreshkin points out, it is also the most educated who are looking to leave now:

The main thing is that just as in all the previous cases, the most independent and qualified people are leaving and for the same fundamental reasons: the model of the state built by Lenin and Stalin and softly being restored by Putin is flawed from the outset.

The reason for this, Oreshkin argues, is that the Putin system works well for the "bosses" and for the "lumpen," who are awed by images of "a bright future and a mighty power." But the independent minded and the "strongest and most gifted people," on the other hand, are deeply alienated by the regime.

But despite the similarities, Oreshkin says there it an important difference in the current emigration wave:

The novelty of the sixth wave is that it is not irreversible. If and when Russia will follow the rule of law instead of the rules of the Chekist corporation and, accordingly, when there will be opportunities for self-realization, these people will return. They still really do not want to leave. Just here have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no hope.

In a recent post I cited an article by political analyst Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies, in which he noted that Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev are appealing to two separate and distinct parts of the Russian public.

Putin appeals to a demographic that Makarkin calls "The Folks" (who basically overlap with those Oreshkin describes as the "lumpen"), who " trust the state and the sovereign, they are sincere, patriotic, modest, sometimes outwardly naive, but inwardly wise." Medvedev, on the other hand, appeals to what Makarkin dubs "The Non-Folks" (Oreshkin's "independent" and "strong-minded people"), "who are suspect [and] do too much thinking for themselves."

If Oreshkin's analysis is correct, then it appears that the "Non-Folks" are heading for the exits because their half of the tandem is not doing enough to keep them around. And that's bad news for Russia.

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ivo
February 01, 2011 23:56
Yeah, Oreshkin, you really have to be "young and innate" to believe your country might become free.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
February 03, 2011 15:54
The Russian economy has improved alot and broadly despite the rougher times since 2008. Have met a few recent Russian immigrants to the US after not having seen many until the last couple of years. Lack of opportunity to flourish and live a truly wealthy individualist lifestyle seemed to mean the main motivation for these ambitious young people (though they don't seem to be finding things necessarily easy over here either in terms of opportunities either if I can generalize). Hard for me to generalize in terms of who these people are-- if they are the next generation of scientists, administrators and true entrepeneurs that is indeed sad for Russia. If they are the next generation of speculators and connivers than Russia is probably better off w/o them. If they are the latter, maybe they can get work in the US as local day traders (fleecing the elderly and naive); getting a job with the big taxpayer bailed-out crooks on Wall Street takes an Ivy League degree and a big trust fund. The more things are different, the more they are the same...

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
February 02, 2011 14:18
I would be curious to learn which countries these Russians are emigrating to. Can they freely move to EU countries? I know that the U.S. and other western countries have pretty strict immigration quotas. Must Russians gain the permission of their authorities before being allowed to leave?
In Response

by: Jeff from: Wash DC
February 03, 2011 08:11

As the Russian economy has substantially improved since the 1990s, both the EU and the US have eased tourist visa restrictions for Russians and now most people who can demonstrate some financial ties to Russia such as a legitimate job, a business, ownership of property, etc and ability to pay for their trip, are issued visas.

To immigrate to either the EU or the US however, Russians are required to obtain residency and have to pass various tests (married to a EU or US national, work permits, etc).

During soviet times an exit visa was required for all soviet citizens leaving the USSR. However that was abolished by most of the former soviet states including Russia, in the early 1990s. The exception to that is Turkmenistan I believe although I may be wrong.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
February 03, 2011 21:50
Canada, Germany and Britain seem to be getting a lot of Russian immigrants these days. Australia and NZ would be too if it were not for MUCH STRICTER visa restrictions. Legislation passed in Australia in the last few years was designed to keep foreigners out (especially South Asians).
In Response

by: Johann from: USA
February 04, 2011 18:46
They can freely move to Spitsbergen ( See Wikipedia) that is a part of Norway and outside of Schengen, according to international treaties.
There is no boarder control between Norway and Spitsbergen because it is really the same country. In Norway, Russians can move to other EU countries.

by: Anonymous
February 07, 2011 17:36
I emigrated from Moldova to the US in 90-s.

The was a wave of scientists, professors, computer programmers who emigrated from Russia to the US in the 90's. You could say that every major US university has at least one Russian math professor (ours has two).

Russia had and probably have brains/talent but bad system. Google's Sergey Brin moved to the US with his Math professor father, later founded Google. If he stayed in Russia there would be no Google most likely.

After first 90's wave not many Russians moved to the US. "Sausage" wave mostly consisted of immigrants from Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia. Emigration from those republics never stopped and continues. Everybody leaves those republics. So called 'russian' communities mostly consist of Ukrainians, etc.

Percentage wise Russia did not loose that many people. In Moldova at least 1 mln of 4 mln, i.e. 25% emigrated (to EU, Russia, Israel, etc.)

Many people in Russia I talk to want to leave Russia. Main reason is not money. You can make almost Western salary in Moscow. They are middle class. Reasons are lawlessness, crime, corruption, lack of freedom and democracy (surprise). Young people want to start a business, prosper but Russian system kills all startups.

The other trend in Russia - getting second citizenship. Anybody somehow well off wants to have a second citizenship (Canada might be the easiest). With the second citizenship they might still live in Russia but ready to leave if environment changes. Many lost faith in Russian system and are ready to leave for good now.

Judging by what Putin and Medvedev are doing they are both crooks. Many emigrants of any wave would come back if system changed. Unfortunately system is not going to change in Russia. Putin might be thinking he is replicating a Chinese system but he is not. Russia needs law, freedoms and democracy. It got talent but no way to express and develop it.

by: Canadian from: Canada
February 10, 2011 04:57
In the 90-ies there was a huge wave of Russians (ex-Soviets) immigrating to Canada. Think it may go this way again? True, our taxes are higher than in US, but health care is free. Besides, we don't have military dictating anybody what to do... After Britain tightened up student visas, practically anyone can become a permanent resident of Canada thru student visas in a Canadian college or university.

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS)


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.


Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)


A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)



Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)


A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014


According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or