By Paul Goble
Population losses from the pandemic mean that Moscow has no choice but to seek to repatriate ethnic Russians from Central Asia, Aleksandr Shustov says. Up to now, it had been slow to do so because it believed that Russians there could help hold these countries within Moscow’s orbit, a belief that is no longer justified.
On the Rhythm of Eurasia portal, the Russian commentator says the possibilities for Russians to retain their ethnic identity in these countries are becoming “ever smaller” as interethnic marriages and the use of the titular nationality language, English or Turkish grow (ritmeurasia.org/news–2021-12-13–repatriacija-russkih-sposobna-vospolnit-demograficheskie-poteri-rossii-57776 ).
According to Shustov, risks that Russian language and culture will decline if more Russians leave are real; but he argues, “these processes are taking place independently of the emigration of the Russian population.” And now, with the pandemic, Russia needs more Russians and those in Central Asia are the best source for that.
In the four countries of Central Asia proper – excluding Kazakhstan – there are about 1.1 million ethnic Russians, he says. And Moscow needs to recognize that not in any one of these are Russians playing an “influential” role in business or politics. Leaving them there does Russia no good; bringing them home can, Shustov says.
The situation in Kazakhstan is slightly different where ethnic Russians number almost 3.5 million and are concentrated in the northern and eastern portions of that country. “But even there, considering the plans of the Kazakh authorities, Russians living in the republic do not have any choice besides emigration to Russia.”
Shustov is echoing the views of senior Russian officials responsible for Moscow’s relations with the former Soviet space. (See telegra.ph/poradomoj-11-30 in particular.) But the vehemence of his argument suggests that there is emerging a powerful lobby in Moscow to try to pull the remaining Russians out of Central Asia.
That will open the way for those countries to become less Russian and European even faster than they are proceeding at present and mean that if Moscow is to retain its influence there, it will have to use other means, including hard power, to do so. In short, what may appear to be a minor matter could entail enormous consequences.