Thursday, October 12, 2017

Without Revival of Imperial Migration Flows, Russia’s Territorial Integrity will Remain Under Threat, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 12 – “All empires,” Pavel Luzin says, “stimulate migration from the metropolitan center to the colonies and among the colonies,” sometimes by economic stimuli and sometimes by force. “Russia in the past was no exception to this pattern.”  But today it is, and that casts doubt on the future of the empire as such.

            In a discussion on the After Empire portal, the Russian commentator says that the Russian metropole followed the same pattern of other empires in the past, but in the last generation, not only has the center given independence to much of the periphery but “colonial migration in post-Soviet Russia has ceased” (

            Instead of moving from the center to the colonies, every year now “hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens prefer independently to leave small cities and settlements and move to major cities or leave the country entirely.”  The only exceptions are moves to oil and gas extraction points.

            This might not seem to be a serious problem, Luzin continues, but “without colonial (administered) migration, the empire can no longer plan its own economic development and support its own rule over it subjects.” Instead, the imperial center becomes something “unnecessary” for them.

            “Of course,” the Russian analyst says, “the metropolitan center is still powerful and overwhelmingly controls the economy.”  But “this resource isn’t infinite,” and over time, the economy without imperial migration, more or less rapidly “loses its effectiveness in maintaining rule over its subjects” who view the center as an obstacle rather than an asset.

            Given the importance of colonial migration, he continues, it is no surprise that “since the beginning of the 1990s,” there have been many proposals advanced to try to restart it. Some want to send university graduates to work in distant areas, others want to decentralize management, and still others say Moscow should give citizenship to those who settle the Far East.

            But none of these things has really taken off, and “without the return to a colonial (administered) migration system, the next step will be the deconstruction of the empire itself,” Luzin suggests. Talk will continue, but it is unlikely to have the desired result of restarting something that has lost its meaning.

            Imperial migration always rested in the final analysis on the profitability of the colonies, “but Russian colonies, the regions, with the exception of oil and gas provinces, in the existing system of organization of power rely on subsidies from the center and in the best case can only support their own existence.”

            “Without economic modernization, the majority of colonies are condemned to continual decline,” Luzin argues.  But modernization presupposes an influx of foreign technology and “this flow stopped long ago.”  To change that will require fundamental change, and “systemic modernization will mean the disintegration of the imperial mechanism.”

            According to the analyst, it is no accident that “the majority of empires disappeared in the last century.” Russia has lost part but not all of its empire. And it hasn’t found a way to have people move to places where the economy is the least promising.  Russians are too educated and too knowledgeable to want to move from where things are better to where they are worse.

            Luzin’s argument is at a high theoretical level, but this week brought three stories about the specifics of what he is talking about.  Another Russian expert pointed out that the differential pay system intended to get Russians to move to the north “no longer exists except on paper” (

            A former leader of the Sakha Republic argued that development of the North must be suspended until Moscow can improve the IT network there ( And despite what many believe, Russians aren’t moving to the oil and gas fields. Instead, non-Russians and even Ukrainians are doing so (

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