Staunton, July 13 – 2022 marked an important turning point in Kazakhstan’s demographic development: for the first time since gaining independence in 1991, the number of people moving from Russia to Kazakhstan dramatically increased while the number leaving Kazakhstan for Russia fell, according to the Kazakhstan government’s statistics agency.
Between 1991 and 2004, the relationship was very different, with those leaving Kazakhstan for Russia vastly outnumbering those leaving Russia for Kazakhstan sometimes by as much as 220,000. Most of these were ethnic Russians who were returning to their ancestral homelands (qmonitor.kz/society/5786).
Between 2004 and 2008, Astana compensated for this by attracting back ethnic Kazakhs who had been living abroad. During those years, almost 440,000 ethnic Kazakhs, known as oralmane, returned to Kazakhstan. But that flow slowed and the outflow of people to Russia increased, leading to a renewed decline.
Between 2009 and 2019, the imbalance between the two groups increased; and by the end of that period, 39,800 Kazakhstan residents left for the Russian Federation while only 3300 left the Russian Federation for Kazakhstan. The pandemic in the following two years essentially froze this imbalance albeit at lower levels for both groups.
But then in 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine; and many people in Russia sought to leave, some of them to Kazakhstan, while fewer people in Kazakhstan viewed Russia as a favorable direction for migration. Those leaving Kazakhstan declined to 19,500 while those leaving Russia for Kazakhstan rose to 6700.
In the first quarter of 2023, this trend intensified: 1733 people left Kazakhstan for Russia, but 3880 left the Russian Federation for Kazakhstan. Not only did that shift this imbalance, but it meant that more arrivals in Kazakhstan came from the Russian Federation than from Uzbekistan as had been the case earlier.
Almost two-thirds of those coming from Russia to Kazakhstan during that quarter were ethnic Russians. Kazakhs formed only 756 of the total. Most of those arriving chose to live in Almaty and Astana or in the Kazakhstan oblasts bordering the Russian Federation.
Some of this change reflects the war in Ukraine and may end when that war does, but some of it is the product of broader social and political changes and may continue even when the Russian invasion ends.