Friday, March 15, 2019

Kremlin Hopes to Cover Russia’s Demographic Collapse by Attracting 10 Million Russian Speakers from Abroad Unlikely to Be Realized

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 14 – For much of the past decade, immigrants to the Russian Federation have covered the decline in the number of the indigenous population of that country. Now, that has ended both because fewer immigrants are coming and because the decline in the indigenous population is accelerating.

            To reverse that, the Kremlin has set up a special commission in the Presidential Administration to attract up to 10 million Russian speakers from abroad, primarily from the four countries where they are most numerous – Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Moldova – but from others as well (

            Were Moscow able to do so – and the odds against it are long not only because there are ever fewer jobs for immigrants because of the economic crisis and because many of the potential immigrants are doing better where they are than they would in Russia – it would be in a position to claim that Russia’s population is still growing, when in fact it is not.

            But there are three reasons why this project almost certainly will prove yet another stillborn one. First, while the Kremlin has created a high-profile committee to oversee it, there is little evidence as yet that it is willing or even able to put the resources behind it that would make such a campaign a success.

            Indeed, any money it spends on such a project will likely be viewed by other Russians as money that should have been spent in the first instance on them. Why should a Russian from Uzbekistan be funded but not one in Russia’s regions? – yet another sign of what some Russians refer to as “bombing Voronezh.”

            Second, if the regime does attract new immigrants, it will be creating more problems for itself. Not only will these “’new Russians’” be competing with indigenous ones for jobs, but their appearance will highlight just how different they are and even more have become from Russians in Russia over the last generation.

            Despite Kremlin claims and the willingness of both Russian commentators and Western observers to accept them, the Russian nation is extremely diverse: Russians in Siberia are not like Russians in Pskov are not like Russians in Tambov. Adding new groups of Russians from abroad will only intensify that and make Moscow’s rule more problematic.

            And third, while some of the countries from which such Russian speakers might be drawn would not be unhappy with their departure, others will be furious, seeing this as the kind of intensified brain drain that they represent and viewing this project as a reason to be even more suspicious of and hostile to Moscow.

            That will be the case whether Moscow succeeds or not. If it succeeds even in part, the countries around Russia will be even more mono-ethnic than they are today, thus depriving Russia of one more lever in them and making the post-Soviet space even less likely to be reincarnated as “the Russian world” Putin talks about.

            And if it fails as seems likely, it will also have negative consequences, first in Russia and then in the other countries. In Russia, it will show that Putin’s plans can’t be realized; and in the other countries, this Russian attempt will lead some countries to view the Russian speakers in them with greater suspicion and thus more willing to push their titular languages.

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