John Herbst and Sergey Yerofeyev of the Atlantic Council have prepared a 64-page report on The Putin Exodus (in Russian) that focuses on the brain drain that the departure of as many as two million people from the Russian Federation since Vladimir Putin came to power (publications.atlanticcouncil.org/putinskiy-iskhod/putinskiy-iskhod.pdf).
It is an important study that makes the point that “human capital is leaving Russia” in order to life and work in places where they can feel free and better use their talents,” The New Times says in a summary published today ( ). As a result, Russia is suffering one of the most serious brain drains of any country in the world.
The report describes the ways in which highly educated Russians who are often doing relatively well professionally in Russia nonetheless seek to live abroad rather than under Putin and suggests that many of them might return once the Kremlin leader passes from the scene and Russia may become more free.
All that is true and the documentation Herbst and Yerofeyev provide is welcome. But in three important respects, it understates the significance of the Russian emigration at present. First, by fitting the Russian flow into the general literature on brain drains in general, it understates the political nature of those who are fleeing Putin’s rule.
Second, it does not focus on the enormous diversity, professional, social and ethnic, of this diaspora. The two million include not only Russians but the nations of the North Caucasus who have been repressed even more than the dominant nation and who remain in close touch with their communities at home via Internet.
And third, it does not focus on the political organizations of the emigres ranging from Russian nationalists to liberal democrats to ethnic activists of all kinds. This variety resembles more the flight of some two million people from Bolshevik rule in the years of the Russian Civil War.
All three of these things call out for more attention than they have received so far not only because this emigration in its diversity may be the future of Russian but also because its members provide important sources of insight into what is going on outside of the usual circles Western diplomats and scholars focus on.
One could give dozens of examples of this from Chechens in Europe to Jews in Israel to Russians of various kinds in places across the planet. To give just one example of how diverse and interesting this emigration (and not just brain drain) is, consider the following Facebook post today by Vadim Shtepa, the Karelian regionalist who now lives in Tallinn.
He writes: “You know how Russian emigres differ from one another in the Baltic countries/ In Lithuania, there live liberal imperialists. They dream of replacing a bad Kremlin tsar with a good one. But the Moscow empire in their view must beyond question be preserved” (