Friday, November 21, 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





From RFE/RL's News Desk:

Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)


16:55 November 19, 2014


Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014


MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014


Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)


President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

12:45 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:



Russia has lashed out at the United States and European Union over Ukraine, saying the conflict there is the product of what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called 25 years of selfish Western expansionism.

Addressing Russia's lower parliament house on November 19, Lavrov said the West "must support the process of mutually acceptable agreements instead of supporting the party of war in Kyiv, closing its eyes on outrageous human rights violations, lawlessness, and war crimes." 

Lavrov repeated Moscow's denials of involvement in an armed conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists that has killed more than 4,100 combatants and civilians since April.

He said the conflict is an internal issue for Ukraine and "all attempts to turn Russia into a party to the conflict are counterproductive and have no chance of success."

His address to the State Duma, which was broadcast live on state television, appeared aimed to assure Russians that the Kremlin is in the right and fend off growing Western accusations of direct Russian military support for the separatists, who hold large parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

"The Ukraine crisis is a consequence of the policy Western states have pursued for a quarter-century of strengthening their own security at the expense of the security of others and broadening the geopolitical space under their control."

It came a day after President Vladimir Putin, who has used anti-Western words and actions to strengthen his grip on the country, said that the United States wants to "subordinate" Russia to itself and "solve its problems at our expense." 

Lavrov tempered the anti-Western message by saying that there is no alternative to cooperation between Russia and the European Union, long its biggest trade partner.
But he blamed the EU for the strains and said Russia's relations with the West must be based on the assumption of equality, echoing a demand Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

"Russia's constructive course toward integration is running up against the desire of the United States and its allies to divide and rule, to push their tactical plans."

Russia banned a broad range of food imports from the EU and the United States in August in retaliation for sanctions they imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has raised fears among Russia's neighbors that it could seek control of more territory, and has brought Moscow's relations with the West to post-Cold War lows.

Ties had already been badly damaged by Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, which followed the flight of a Russian-backed president from Ukraine after months of protests over his November decision to spurn a political and economic pact with the European Union and turn toward Moscow instead.

Kyiv and the West accuse Russia of sending weapons and troops into eastern Ukraine to aid the separatists, who consolidated their hold on parts of eastern Ukraine's industrial Donbas region with November 2 elections denounced by Ukraine, the United States, and the EU as illegal.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on November 18 that there had been a "serious military buildup" both in eastern Ukraine and on the Russian side of the border, and urged Moscow to pull back its forces.

Kyiv and Western governments are concerned that Putin may want pro-Russian separatists to seize more ground in Ukraine or solidify control over the territory they hold, creating a "frozen conflict" that could destabilize the country, drain its economy, and crimp its pro-Western government for years.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who met with both Putin and Lavrov in Moscow on November 18 after talks in Kyiv, said during his visit that he saw "no grounds for optimism in the current situation."

Steinmeier warned of a "dangerous situation developing" in Ukraine and appealed to all sides to stick to an agreement signed in Minsk on September 5 on a cease-fire and steps toward peace.

The cease-fire is violated daily, but Steinmeier said the Minsk accord must not be abandoned and called for the swift completion of a plan for the "disengagement" of the conflicting sides.


Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow will not pressure its "allies" to recognize Crimea as a part of Russia or to join it in recopgnizing Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions as independent states.

In a question-and-answer session following an address to Russia's lower parliament house on November 19, Lavrov said the security and economic groupings that Russia is currently building with other former Soviet republics are aimed to "protect the legitimate interests of our countries' security."

He said that "on some issues, including the status of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Crimean history, we are not making our partners share our assessments 100 percent, as we do not want to put them into an awkward position if for some reason it is uncomfortable for them."

The remarks appeared aimed to assuage concerns among ex-Soviet republics that Russia, which annexed Crimea in March in a move that Kyiv and the West say was illegal, wants to diminish their sovereignty or control their foreign policy.

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