Staunton, September 22 – Just as in the years following the Bolshevik revolution, the best minds of Russia are leaving to live and work abroad, a trend that undermines the possibility that Russia will be able to profit from their skills across the board and that is already having a direct and negative impact on Russia’s military-industrial complex.
After 1917, Vladimir Malyshev observes today, those who would invent helicopters, television, high-octane fuel, video recorders, and major ships left Russia and put their skills to work for other countries. Today, “once again the best minds are leaving Russia in order to serve the glory and well-being of others” (stoletie.ru/rossiya_i_mir/talanty_dla_chuzhih_596.htm).
Then, they left by ship; now, they go by jet; then, they were fleeing persecution, hunger and even death; now they are going to make a better life for themselves. And the numbers are staggering: according to some sources, as many as 800,000 scientists have left Russia since 1991 and their numbers are rising dramatically this year.
According to the rector of Moscow State University, Russia lost “about a third of its intellectual potential” in the 1990s; and education ministry officials concede that the number of people engaged in science in Russia today is “about 40 percent” of the number that were doing so in the early 1990s.
But what is most immediately troubling, the Stoletiye.ru commentator says, is that “no fewer than 70,000 scholars and specialists from defense research centers and enterprises” are among those who have gone to work abroad, a loss that is already affecting Russia’s national security.
To be sure, Malyshev concedes, providing exact numbers on these flows is difficult: the government doesn’t want to talk about them, and many who leave do not “formally emigrate” but rather “simply go abroad to work on contract, although this temporary status often becomes permanent” with time.
Most of those departing go to Europe (42 percent) or North America (30 percent). Few go to Asia and only rarely do they go to CIS countries. They go for better pay, more prestige, and what they see as an atmosphere that allows them greater scope for their abilities, and also because they sense that they are not needed or wanted at home, Malyshev suggests.
Some in Russia don’t view the brain drain as a problem, he continues. Vitaly Milonov, a a St. Petersburg legislator, said recently that “Russia loses nothing if all the so-called creative class leaves … For me, a woman who gets up at 5:00 am to milk a cow is create because she produces something, unlike someone who sits all day in a café and writes in a blog.”
Malyshev says there is another form of brain drain. It involves those Russian scholars who never leave the country but work for foreign firms or institutions. Such people may appear to remain at home but in fact they might as well be living and working abroad for as much contribution as they are making to Russia.
Those who do leave assuredly are not working for Russia but for the countries to which they have gone, contributing their skills to others. Moscow must do far more to make Russia an attractive place for those who are still in the country and also for those who have left but might be persuaded to come back.
The country’s development and even national security depend upon that, he suggests.
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