Staunton, May 12 – Over the last 30 years, surveys have regularly shown that one of the most important rights Russians say they gained from the demise of the Soviet system was the right to travel or even move abroad for long periods or permanently. Because of that attitude, the Kremlin has been cautious in restricting that constitutional right lest it provoke an explosion.
The Putin regime has restricted foreign travel for officials, those facing legal actions or in debt, and in other ways; but despite growing anger about the roughly one million Russians who have left since Putin began his expanded war in Ukraine, the Kremlin hasn’t blocked travel for most Russians.
But the government is clearly stung by the departures especially because they are concentrated among IT specialists and other professionals; and so now Putin has ordered that the government come up with “attractive financial and social mechanisms” that will lead Russians to conclude that they have every reason to stay (kommersant.ru/doc/5985106 and publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202305120003).
Most Russians who have left their country to live abroad since February 2022 have done so because they object to the war or because they fear its impact on their lives. There is no indication that the Kremlin leader plans to do anything about that cause. Instead, he clearly hopes that protection of some from mobilization and more money for them and others will do the job.
That is unlikely to be the case for most, although it may work on the margins. And what is most important about this development is that it is a clear indication of the real limits on what Putin can do when society has a consensus about what rights are the most important and must not be violated.