Monday, August 25, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Refugees from Ukraine Give Moscow a Chance for Ethnic Engineering at Home

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 25 – The flow of ethnic Russian refugees from Ukraine is giving Russia “a truly historical opportunity to restore the ethnic balance in the North Caucasus Federal District” by reversing the decline in the share of the Slavic population there over recent years and thus defending Russia against the Muslim south, according to Vladislav Maltsev.


            In an article on the Svobodnaya pressa portal, Maltsev says that this is because many of the Russian refugees who have come from Ukraine “do not intend to return” and thus should be settled in Stavropol, “on the fruitful lands which have been deserted in the last decades by the local Slavic population” (


            Ten days ago, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued a directive according to which Stavropol is to take in “compatriots from abroad” and that Moscow will pay for this. His order followed a statement on July 11 by Aleksey Kirichenko, head of the inter-ethnic affairs department of the Ministry for Regional Development that the ethnic mix in that kray could be improve by settling refugees from Ukraine and Semireche Cossacks from Kyrgyzstan.


             That government program is now being carried out.  On August 19, Irina Kuvaldina, the deputy chairman of the Stavropol government said that some 5972 people in these  two categories would be settled “primarily” in the eastern districts of the kray, an area which has seen an outflow of ethnic Russians and an influx of North Caucasians in recent years.


            In the implementation of this project, Maltsev says, “the Russian Orthodox Church has played an important role.”  Patriarch Kirill last December noted that the outflow of Slavs from Stavropol “threatens the way of life in Stavropol and the republics of the North Caucasus,” stressing that ethnic Russians are “the bulwark of peace” in the region.


            The Stavropol eparchate and the Synod Department for Work with Cossacks have been actively involved as well, the Moscow commentator says. The only question now is the scale of the program.  The number of Slavs coming in is far smaller than those who have left. “For the effective solution of the situation,” he writes, the latter must be increased “many times.”


            But that may be difficult. The number of refugees from southeastern Ukraine is large – Georgy Fedorov, a member of the coordinating council to help them, says they number more than 730,000 -- problems in directing them and the cost of their support are beginning to turn some local people against them (


            Most of the refugees are in Rostov oblast, and officials are concerned about how to house them given the approach of winter.  Distribution still appears to be haphazard and more at the initiative of officials from various regions than the result of a carefully developed and applied central Russian policy.


            According to a report in today, “various regions of the Russian Federation are sending the government of Rostov oblast information” concerning the numbers they are prepared to take, how they plan to settle and employ them, and so on. In many cases, this system is working but not in all.


            Russian sociologists have already noted that indigenous Russians are unhappy with the fact that Moscow seems to be more concerned with helping refugees coming into Russia than it is with helping its own citizens.  As Sergey Bondarev, deputy governor of Rostov, put it, they are asking why Moscow is helping others before it helps its own.


            But most Russian officials, reports, say that such objections are still rare and that most Russians are quite ready to bear the burden of taking into refugees and seeing them settled in areas where they can be integrated into Russian society.  Stavropol is likely to be a test case of this in the coming months.


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