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Updated: February 14, 2012 20:10 IST

The Russians are leaving … Russia

Vladimir Radyuhin
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Highly qualified middle-class professionals, feeling ignored by the country's economy and political system, are emigrating in search of greener pastures.

Andrei and Nadezhda are, by any measure, successful professionals and a happy family. They are the kind of people who are supposed to be the mainstay of new Russia and the driving force of its resurgence. Except that they are planning to leave this country for good.

They live in the ancient Russian city of Vladimir, about 200 km east of Moscow. Andrei, 40, and Nadezhda, 36, have decent jobs, a two-bedroom flat and a car, and are raising two daughters, aged 10 and 4. Four years ago they took a firm decision to emigrate. Why?

“We don't see a future for us here,” says Nadezhda. “Once a military and industrial giant, our country today is reduced to a raw material appendage to other economic powerhouses. Look at our shops: You won't find any goods made in Russia. Our well-being depends on the price of oil and on decisions taken by politicians and economists in other countries. We don't feel we are needed here.”

Results of a survey

This harsh indictment of the situation in this country is shared by many Russians. A survey conducted last year by the respected Levada Centre found that 50 per cent of Russians do not think there is future for them in Russia, while 63 per cent said they would like their children to live elsewhere.

Andrei and Nadezhda are part of a new emigration wave from Russia. There are no reliable emigration statistics, partly because the departures are hard to document. According to the Federal Migration Service, almost 30,000 left Russia in the 11 months of last year. However, the figure includes only those who gave up their Russian passports, whereas most émigrés retain Russian citizenship. The Auditing Commission, last year, estimated on the basis of tax returns that almost 1.25 million Russians had left during the past decade. Other estimates put the number of émigrés at 2 million. The shocking fact is that the exodus from Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union is comparable to that in the wake of the October 1917 Bolshevik revolution. In those days Russians fled violence and hunger. Today their motives are different.

The first post-Soviet emigration wave, when an estimated 1.1 million left Russia in the 1990s, was largely attributed to the lifting of Communist-era travel restrictions and the country's painful transition to a market economy. It was baffling though when the outflow picked up again during Vladimir Putin's presidency in the 2000s. After all, under Mr. Putin, Russia overcame the chaos of the 1990s, posted steady growth and saw people's incomes rise significantly. However, economic growth has been largely confined to the extracting industries, limiting opportunities for self-fulfilment. The corrupt nexus of Russian business and the state became overwhelming, stifling competition and producing a new breed of billionaire bureaucrats. Many felt that the political regime increasingly resembles the Soviet Union where people had no say in government, the Parliament was decorative and elections were a sham. At the same time, the notion of social justice for which the Soviet Union was famous has all but disappeared in new capitalist Russia. Over the past decade, Russia earned an estimated $1.6 trillion from the sale of oil and gas alone, or more than $11,000 per head of its population, but the money landed in the pockets of the privileged few. Moscow today has more billionaires than any other world capital, but across the country, over 21 million people out of the population of 142 million live below the minimal subsistence level. Last year, the number of poor people increased by two million compared with 2010, according to Rosstat, the State statistics committee.

“In Russia, incredible riches of the oligarchs contrast with the lack of social security, quality medicine and education for the people,” complains Nadezhda, who was 18 when the Soviet Union collapsed and can compare life then and now. “Today crime, drunkenness and narcotics rule the roost. We are totally alienated from the state; we can't change the government through elections.”

Who could have imagined two decades ago that Russians would be leaving their country in search of social justice and security? Yet, this is what Andrei and Nadezhda hope to find in Canada.

“We want our children to have good education, good jobs and social security; we want them to live in a country governed by law and caring for its citizens,” says Nadezhda. But it could take several more years for that dream to take shape as emigration to Canada involves a long and cumbersome process.

Focus on middle class

What is worrying about Russian emigration is that it is fuelled by the middle class. Andrei is a skilled mechanic and electrical engineer. Nadezhda has two university diplomas in accounting and management. They say job opportunities in their home city of 350,000 people are far and few between. While they await their passage to Canada, Andrei, like many other people in Vladimir, has taken a better paid job in Moscow. He commutes to the capital twice a week to work in 24-hour shifts.

“Big industrial enterprises that used to employ the bulk of the workforce in Vladimir either closed down in the 1990s or split into small companies,” says Andrei. “It is still possible to find a job, but the pay is low and people go to Moscow in search of work.”

Last month, the 250-year-old Gusevsky Crystal Glass Factory, the main employer and tax-payer in Gus-Khrustalny, a town of 60,000 residents less than an hour's drive from Vladimir, went bankrupt and fired its remaining workers. Once famous for its beautiful designer crystalware, Gus-Khrustalny, which means Crystal Goose, has recently made headlines as a town controlled by criminal gangs. The scandal broke out when residents complained to Mr. Putin of mass extortion racketing that was patronised by local police.

In absolute terms, emigration from Russia is not that big when compared with many other countries. Moreover, it is offset by the influx of immigrants from other former Soviet States. The problem is that the country has been haemorrhaging highly qualified and entrepreneurial cadres, the cream of society, whereas the bulk of newcomers are unskilled labourers from Central Asia.

Professor Anatoly Vishnevsky of the Institute of Demography at the Higher School of Economics has estimated that more than 1,00,000 researchers with academic degrees had left Russia over the past two decades and the outflow continues.

Some of the best Russian universities today serve as a free source of talent for foreign laboratories. Seventy per cent of students at Novosibirsk State University plan to leave the country after they get their degree, according to research conducted by the Novosibirsk branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

A poll conducted by the All-Russia Centre for Public Opinion Studies (VTsIOM) last year revealed that the number of people ready to leave Russia for good has grown fourfold since the breakup of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. Today, 21 per cent of Russians consider emigration as their chance for self-attainment and a better life. Among the educated young people, the share of potential emigrants is staggering — 39 per cent.

In contrast to the 1990s, when Russians mostly headed in the Western direction, today they are also looking to the East. Tens of thousands of Siberians, mostly small and medium-size businessmen, have moved their businesses and families to China to escape bureaucratic pressure and extortion at home.

“I think the era of doing honest business in Russia has ended,” said Ivan Smolin, a businessman from Krasnoyarsk now living in Harbin. He says he had left because the business and political climate in Russia was suffocating.

“I left to escape stagnation. I felt it was impossible to change things. You can be successful only in two cases: if you dodge taxes or sit on the oil pipe [do business in hydrocarbons].”

Cynics say the Kremlin is only too happy to see the disgruntled leave the country and this is one reason why it has been pushing for a visa-free travel arrangement with Europe. The country that lives off its oil and minerals does not need that many qualified specialists anyway.

Protests and political system

Mass protests against rigged parliamentary elections in December showed, however, that many educated urban Russians, instead of packing their bags, are now ready to pack the streets to demand reforms and freedoms.

The peaceful protests have already prompted the Kremlin to promise pro-democracy reforms and 25 million new skilled jobs over the next decade. This generated hopes that many potential emigrants would delay, if not rethink, their departure.

Andrei and Nadezhda, however, do not believe that things could change in Russia in their lifetime. They showed me a recent news item in a local paper.

The paper reported a fire in a municipal district administration in Vladimir that destroyed all ballot papers of the December parliamentary election from two polling stations, where Mr. Putin's party received over 90 per cent of the votes (twice the average for Vladimir). What is more, the two polling stations never opened on the election day. Police blamed the fire on faulty electrical wiring.

“What changes can we hope for in a country where authorities act with such impunity,” asked Nadezhda. “Putin's decision to return as President has only strengthened our resolve to emigrate.”

More In: Lead | Opinion

Thanks to VLADIMIR RADYUHIN for his contemporary report. I am agreed with this report as one of my friend Natalia has also left Moscow and her father is working in Switzerland since a decade and more. Many posts are similar to what I want to say so no more writing.

from:  Chandrakant
Posted on: Feb 13, 2012 at 14:32 IST

It is indeed a shame. Russia, the great Motherland, has become an almost unknown entity in this unipolar world. It looks now more like a country full of conniving and fraudulent oligarchs to the outside world (which is not necessarily much farther from the truth than it sounds). Putin's iron rule of Russia has turned a potential world power to a pseudo socialist country holding on to a legacy created by men with iron hearts, half a century ago.

from:  Shamit
Posted on: Feb 13, 2012 at 10:36 IST

People leave for better opportunity and come back with greater experience. This process in the world keeps on going!

from:  Akhilesh Balakrishna
Posted on: Feb 13, 2012 at 10:32 IST

Does Salman Ahmed know what he is writing?

from:  Srini Balan
Posted on: Feb 12, 2012 at 21:13 IST

russia at the moment is becoming a giant again .those people leaving now will repent on their decision in future .as far as this article is concerned .they might get security and education in canada but the price of medical is very high in canada and i have some friends there who avoid hopsital as much as they can .because they say that medical expenses take all of their month salaray away

from:  salman ahmed
Posted on: Feb 12, 2012 at 20:52 IST

The truth is another: "For 2010 the year of Russia for permanent residence OFFICIALLY retired 33,577 man, and entered Russia 191,656 people... including: -- from Belarus to Russia: 4894 man; from Russia to Belarus: 2899; * Kazakhstan-Russia migration: 7,329 : 27,862 man * Moldova - Russia: 617:11,814 man: * Ukraine - Russia 6,278:27,508 man * Azerbaijan - Russia 1,110:14,500 people * Armenia - Russia 698;19,890; * Georgia - Russia 459:5,245 man * the states of Central Asia - Russia 2,274:65,472 man, ** From Russia to Germany on Permanent RESIDENCE OFFICIALLY moved 2,621 man from Russia to Germany 3,725 man; ** Greece - Russia 92:298 persons, ** Israel - Russia 947:814 people, ** Latvia - Russia 139:811 people, ** Lithuania - Russia 153:433, *** the USA - Russia 1460:653; *** Finland - Russia 517:178 man; *** Estonia - Russia 206:637, *** Canada - Russia 497:110, *** China - Russia 248:1,380 man; ******... other countries - Russia 3,929:6,536 man Source ROSSTAT (Dec. 2011) ;)

from:  Alex
Posted on: Feb 12, 2012 at 16:00 IST

What a shame! Russia, know for its great scientific temperament is losing it focus and is becoming fodder for mafia and scams.

from:  aravind
Posted on: Feb 12, 2012 at 12:47 IST

I can understand why some people think that one can simply replace 'Russia' by 'India', and the article would still hold. However, I dont think I fully agree with such a conclusion. It appears that full democracy is still taking root in Russia (free and fair elections with competitive parties, free media) while it is much more ingrained in India, obviously with flaws. Of course, there is emigration out of both India and Russia, but emigration from a richer to wealthier country, region or city is a basic human tendency. I would say that while India's challenges are more expansive and spread out, at the current time Russia's challenges are deeper.

from:  Vikram
Posted on: Feb 12, 2012 at 09:13 IST

The same kind of brain drain is what India is experiencing to a certain degree. Indian citizens or People of Indian Origins such as CV Raman, Amartya Sen, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Har Gobind Khorana, and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan are Noble Prize winners in Scientific fields; and everyone of them have done their award winning research in developed western nations, mostly the US and UK. There are way too many restrictions in our culture. We are not open-minded and adventurous. We need to change big time. But at least we know that brain drain is not happening to us alone. It is happening to Russia, South Africa (white migration out of SA) and Malaysia too.

from:  Sadhan
Posted on: Feb 12, 2012 at 06:09 IST

The writer has given a true account in Russia at the moment. There is leadership crisis in Russia and the citizens are disillusioned by the never ending protests by the citizens near The kremlin walls and other cities everyday. I find it very difficult to compare this situation with India. Nearly two decades back, educated professionals were leaving India for financial betterment and for professional enrichment. The situation is just the opposite now. I find Now, many professionals are eager to return to India, as our country has definitely grown as an economic power. SRI Narayana murty, the founder Of INFOSYS, at a press conference in the PALAKKAD Dist narrated this truth. We should be proud of the rising India. The country is going to register further growth, in spite of the problems in hand.Every country will have to face problems, and down right criticism is not the answer to
Help the nation.

from:  C.p.Chandra das
Posted on: Feb 12, 2012 at 00:51 IST

No one has even thought that russia who was the opponent in cold war
to USA, has reached to this situation that their own people wants to
leave the country. This is happening all because mismanagement of
political systems that lead to this catastrographe. it is a big shame
on russia that it is not able to satisfy their own people who was
known to be a world power. Situation has reached as that extent that
people are forced to leave the country for better livelihood of theirs
and their children. This is all because of monopoly of a few people on
economy which is leading to poverty and many more problems. Now there
is time this former world power has to take this situation very
seriously and take stringent step to get rid of this problem.

from:  Ravi Bohra
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 22:44 IST

I congratulate Vladimir Radyuhin for bringing the truth out. If you replace the word 'Russia' by 'India', the article would still be valid and logical except the statistical numerals might be different.

from:  Mukesh G
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 20:41 IST

The situation is no different in India. But, India doesn't have oil and
minerals to the extent Russia has. Also, we don't have the industrial
and military power that Russia had. So, our situation is much worse. On
top of it, we have reservation and quota system based on caste,
religion...

from:  Krishna
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 17:28 IST

A sad state of affairs (no pun intended) indeed. Criminal gangs have been running amok for years in Russia. I am not surprised that the Russian people are frustrated. There are lessons for India too. The recent scams show us that there is indeed a growing nexus between government and big business in India, to the detriment of the majority. It is insufficient for politicians (many names come to mind in this regard...) to merely expound the virtues of democracy. They need to walk the walk lest there's another exodus of the Indian middle classes (the bulk of the tax paying public) as well. India contributes far too much to global poverty. We cannot afford to alienate our educated public.

from:  Samir Mody
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 16:04 IST

This piece just confirms the blessings of democracy where there is power
resting with the people to change the governments that has ensconced
itself in the galleries of power and siphoning off the dreams and
aspirations of people. Gorbachev rightly criticized the current
political system in Russia as 'mimicking democracy'. India is a beacon
of democracy for the world where despite imperfections people's will
rules.

from:  Ravi Ranjan
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 15:24 IST

The similarities between the 'ex-superpower' and the 'to-be-superpower' are striking - you only need to appropriately substitute the 'resource-nouns' and the tense of the verbs to describe the latter! But the intrinsic strength of the Federation and the strong, rising opposition predicated on literacy levels should surely pull it off, whereas the opposite conditions in the 'Union' puts it on the trajectory to disaster. Both need to, and can, stand upright (metaphorical pun intended) - looking neither west nor east. As for the future - que sera, sera.

from:  Arvind R.
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 15:18 IST

I suppose the key is hope. When there is hope of a better future, people
put up with a lot of hardship. A generation ago, most middle class
Indians wanted to leave India for good, and did so whenever they could.
And the common thing you heard was 'this country won't change'. These
days people want to return because there is hope that things will
improve. No one just stops loving their land, do they?

from:  ks
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 13:49 IST

It's a failure of the Russian government and need to take precautions to control emigration from their mother land.The government should provide social security,quality medicine and education for the people.It could be better to eliminate the bureaucratic pressure on people

from:  Jawahar Battu
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 11:39 IST

Russia down turn started after the Soviet collapse and combined with weak politicians nexus with underworld resulted the current state. They should realize the couple of huge military deals with India are not sufficient and need to strengthen the political system, in case if they want to rise again and take head-on with US, I think this is distant dream.

from:  Sidram
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 11:14 IST


With regard to the brain drain, Russia could learn from India's
experience. People who leave in search of better business or
professional opportunities are still the home country's assets. I
personally know Russians who have settled down in the US, and they
still love their native culture very much, and they still keep in
touch with their friends and families, and often travel once or twice
a year back home.

Instead of worrying about losing talent, Russian policy makers in the
coming decade should and will most definitely create an environment
that once again becomes a talent magnet.
In the meantime, the world over, academics salute the fantastic
contributions Russian scientists and mathematicians have made. That
equity is never going to be lost!

from:  Subra Balakrishnan
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 10:31 IST

A good article but then today emigration is a very common phenomenon and Russia is not immune to what we call as Brain Drain in India. The grass always looks green on the other side but only when you start living in the West do you then relaize what is the price you paid for Freedom? Children go through problems if they are not able to adpat to the culture. Sure Russia has it's set of problems but definately under Putin the path to restoring Russia back to the rule of law has been effective. You cannot change any system overnight that young people do not understand-they want instant gratification that is not possible as Rome was not built in a day-same hold good for Russia.

from:  Vikram Niranjan
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 09:44 IST

Sounds familiar, of course. Two points: "the notion of social justice for which the Soviet Union was famous": yeah, let's not forget that that's exactly what it was: a notion. "have moved their businesses and families to China to escape bureaucratic pressure and extortion at home.

from:  Ashu
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 09:39 IST

Many from our middle class in the cities and even towns will find similarity between India and Russia, particularly with regard to a powerful uncaring State administration and a corrupt bureaucracy. It is not surprising therefore that like many middle class Indians the well educated Russians too dream to settle abroad. However, this is ‘inevitable’ escapism that rules the minds of most of the straight forward citizens. No one in particular can be blamed for the situation but fact remains that as a society we have failed to improve our governance standards and then are left with not many alternatives.

from:  NarendraM Apte
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 08:50 IST

Indian scientific community and authorities should seize this
opportunity and invite highly qualified and those in the field of
research in mathematics physics, metallurgy etc to migrate to our
country both to man our labs and universities.

from:  R.Sundaram
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 07:54 IST

Well-being depends on oil price! Shops full of foreign goods! Decisions made by powerhouses elsewhere (Read US) — do you find any similarity between India and Russia. Is this our future too?

from:  Taha Amin Mazumder
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 04:58 IST

Congratulations to Vladimr Radyuhinm for the excellent appraisal of the condition in Russia. It is unimaginable in India that someone write about India anything bad especially outside the country because of so called nationalism in a world of inter-nationalism and global trade. It is hard for us to think beyond the box, go beyond the borders and expand the horizon. India has lost so many top notch engineers, doctors, computer experts and enterrprenuers. India follow the Russian model. India even lost so many casual laborers to the Middle East. Government encourages the flow of brain drain and labor because we cannot find jobs here. The greener pastures are outside India for many that emigrated and many who just went to work to make a living. The society is full of gundas and currupt politicians with criminal backgroud. In government offices you have to pay bribes even to get a birth certificate or death certificate. Long live India - Russia friendship, because there is a lot common!

from:  Davis K. Thanjan
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 04:31 IST

With a 17.8 million square kilometer area Russia is the biggest country of the world. But alas its demographic data shows that only 83 people lives in 10 square km area. Emigration is one of the reasons of such a low population in Russia. It’s a matter of shame for such a superpower country not to provide better job opportunities and a conducive environment for growth to its human resources. To maintain its super power position Russia must ensure that its precious human resources are not directed to other countries otherwise this will hamper the growth of the country.

from:  sumit kumar rai
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 01:40 IST
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