Staunton, Sept. 18 – Until Russian emigres and compatriots associate Russia with freedom, law and security, something highly unlikely as long as Vladimir Putin is its ruler, few of them will return however much of an effort Moscow makes to get them to do so, Konstantin von Eggert says.
The Russian government has announced just such an effort. The foreign and interior ministries are supposed to convince 50,000 emigres and compatriots to return to Russia every year for the next decade, a move designed in part to cover losses from the coronavirus pandemic (dw.com/ru/popytka-putina-sobrat-razdelennyj-narod-budet-bezuspeshnoj/a-59216310).
But appealing to these communities has as well “enormous political importance” for Putin, the Russian commentator says. He wants to show the West that his Russia is attractive and that any minor issues like the fighting in the North Caucasus or the imprisonment of dissidents are not something that disturbs Russians.
His efforts during his first two terms to break with communism by arranging for the reburial of anti-Soviet fighters and thinkers won him support among the descendants of the first and second emigrations, although it did not cause large numbers of them to leave where they had been living and more to Russia.
With time, the question of emigres became even more important for the Kremlin ruler. They and their return became part of his version of “a new Russian civic identity,” one based on the proposition that Russians must be loyal to the leader of the state, whatever he is called, to save the country and make it great again.
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin began to talk about the existence of a Russian world and the Russians as the largest “divided people” on earth. And his propagandists have urged without much success Russians living abroad to leave Estonia because of Russophobes there, to leave France because of Muslims, and to leave the US because of “’political correctness.’”
These messages may have won the Kremlin some support, but they have not and will not lead people who are living abroad in more or less comfortable circumstances to take a chance and move to Russia with its unpredictable past, present and future, the Russian commentator continues.
In support of his argument, von Eggert cites the words of the late Sergey Prikhodko who in the 1990s oversaw relations with the Baltic countries for the Russian foreign ministry. At that time, the commentator himself was working for Izvestiya and often interviewed the future deputy head of the Presidential Administration.
Prikhodko openly said, von Eggert recalls, that “nothing will come” of Moscow’s efforts to get Russians to leave the Baltic countries. “People will still there even if they don’t have citizenship. This is after all Europe, and live is more predictable than it is with us, conditions are certainly no worse if no better, and even with ‘a non-citizen passport,’ one can live not badly.”