Staunton, Sept. 23 – Tbilisi is rapidly becoming a major center of the fourth Russian emigration, not only because of its relatively low prices and the absence of visa requirements for Russian citizens but also because most Russians and Georgians are convinced the Republic of Georgia will never send them back to Russia against their will.
That combination of economics and security concerns has defined the paths of all Russian emigrations over the last century. After the Russian revolution and civil war, more than two million fled to Baltic countries, Prague, Berlin, Harbin, the Balkans, and as conditions changed to Paris and New York.
Then, in what came to be called the second emigration, Russian displaced persons moved from camps in Europe to the United States. And in the third, which consisted primarily of Jews, its participants moved either to Israel or to the United States. Now, with repression in Russia rising, a fourth emigration is taking place.
It is both similar and different from its predecessors, similar in that its members gravitate toward places where the cost of living is lower and business opportunities greater and different in that many of its members, however opposed they are to the Putin regime, do not want to break all ties with family and friends in Russia and even hope at some point to return.
The fourth emigration consists of two parts which overlap but are distinctive. One, driven mostly by economic concerns, has focused on Western countries and includes people who go back and forth to the homeland. The second, more political, is looking for refuge from repression at home and a chance to continue their efforts to influence Russia from abroad.
The first centers of the fourth emigration were in the Baltic countries, each of which now has a sizeable number of political refugees from Russia who continue their activities. But as the cost of living in these three countries has risen, many are now looking for a less expensive alternative. They are finding it in Georgia.
Pjotr Sauer describes the residents of this new center of Russian life outside of Russia in an article for The Moscow Times (themoscowtimes.com/2021/09/23/as-crackdown-intensifies-russian-emigres-find-refuge-in-georgia-a75120). As he notes, their number is growing and most are quite prepared to talk about their shared opposition to Moscow.
But at the same time, he says, some don’t want to call attention to themselves because they have friends and relatives at home they don’t want to cause problems for and because they themselves hope that at some point in the future, they too will be able to go back to Russia when it changes direction.
Moscow is increasingly focusing attention on Tbilisi as a center of Russian life; and several weeks ago, Ren-TV claimed in a program that Western intelligence services were working with the Russian emigres in Georgia (rusmonitor.com/zhurnalisty-izvestij-ren-tv-priehali-v-gruziyu-v-poiskah-emigrirovavshih-rossiyan.html).
As one Georgia-based Russian told Sauer in explaining his personal reluctance to talk to much, “If they’d seen us playing cards, they would have said we had opened an illegal casino here with American money.”