By Paul Goble
Reports that the number of Russians seeking political asylum abroad have reached a level not seen since 1994 have attracted widespread attention, but a more critical number demographically is this: The number of Russians who have left their country since Vladimir Putin came to power exceeds that of those who fled the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
On the Ekho Rossiya portal today, journalist Viktor Vladimirov reports that experts he has questions say that “one of the main reasons for the mass exodus of Russians has been the toughening of the Kremlin’s internal policy as expressed in particular in the adoption of ‘draconian’ laws’ and especially their application”(ehorussia.com/new/node/16237).
Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow sociologist, says that “the screws are tightening everywhere with citizens being imprisoned even for reposts on social media. In general, few in Russia are in a state of complete security.”
“Those who feel a threat are extremely varied. They include, for example, homosexuals or political activists. Their views aren’t defined by propaganda and they are agitated not by what people say on television but on how things look in the narrow circles to which they belong,” the sociologist says.
Russians are consciously making the choice to leave, Oreshkin says; “and it is easy to understand their calculations. They look at what is happening” to various people “and they come to the conclusion that the situation isn’t improving but will only get worse.” And they realize that it will be ever more likely that they personally will run afoul of the regime.
Yury Levada, the director of the Levada Center, says that the efforts of some Russians to receive asylum in the US has many causes, including but not limited to “the intensification of the domestic repressive policy” of the time. Some are now trying to get out while they can, fearing that soon that possibility may be foreclosed.
At the same time, he says, it is his view that “on the whole, massive emigration attitudes which we found earlier have today actually fallen. True, this doesn’t affect the fact that over the entire Putin period have left from 1.5 to two million people,” a number that exceeds “those losses of human resources” the country suffered after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Gudkov says that “now out of Russia are leaving people who have established themselves, comparatively mature who feel themselves at odds with the Putin regime” not only politically but in terms of their “concerns about children, professional interests, ecology and so one.”
Oreshkin agrees: “These are qualified people who do not see in Russia prospects for themselves.” The Kremlin is worried about that over the longer term, but at present, it is glad to see such people leave who might otherwise be among the participants of protests against Putin’s regime.
“The fewer such people remaining, the less noise” is the Kremlin’s calculation, Oreshkin says. “But on the other hand, we are becoming part of the global periphery where outstanding people cannot find a place for themselves. They we will say that ours have invented something in the United States. But what is to be done?”