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Bizarrely the Trope of Russian Mass Emigration Just Won't Die. Here Is Why It's Wrong

Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of people leaving Russia every year - they're going to places like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine - which should tell us these aren't ethnic Russian professionals, they're immigrant menial workers staying in Russia temporarily. Incidentally every year the new arrivals exceed those leaving

One thing you start noticing when you read commentary on Russia long enough is how the same discredited tropes arise again and again. Zombie-like, they refuse to die.




In 2011, for example, there was supposed to have been a “sixth wave of Russian emigration,” in which disillusioned Russians were said to have finally had enough with Putin and were bolting for the exits en masse. Perhaps this was so in the fervid imaginations of the RFERL staff, but in the real world, as proxied by things like numbers and records and statistics, Russian emigration had long collapsed to almost insignificant levels. All the Russians – actually, Jews and Volga Germans, for the most part – who were ever likely to leave Russia had already done so in the 1990s. As such, they picked an exceedingly bad time to come up with this “Sixth Wave of Russian Emigration” fable.

Incidentally, Nikolay Starikov’s deconstruction of how this myth came to be, translated by yours truly, remains a highly relevant case study in how the Western propaganda machine against Russia works: Russian liberals misrepresent or outright invent figures which are quoted by ever more “authoritative” sources and are eventually picked up by and broadcast by a MSM which doesn’t care for elementary fact-checking whenever Russia is concerned.


In 2014-2015, this particular myth is getting resurrected – articles on this have appeared in the RFERL (again), the GuardianThe Diplomatthe BBCBusiness Insider, and most recently – in the Washington Post, in an article by Vladislav Inozemtsev on the “self-destructing” Russian economy.

Net emigration from Russia rose from 35,000 people a year from 2008 to 2010 to more than 400,000, by preliminary estimates, in 2015.

Finally! Some actual, concrete numbers are brought forth, which is a positive change from the typical pattern of quoting anecdotal individual cases (e.g. what a tragedy for Russia to have lost those intellectual giants Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Masha Gessen).

And at first glance they do not look good and actually appear to support the anti-Putin narrative.

But then we notice a strange thing: Immigration has grown in tandem with emigration. (Figures for 2015 here and below are based on the first 10 months of 2015 relative to the same period last year).

Well, surely it must then be the case that all the bright young Yuropean Russians fleeing Putin’s regime and getting replaced by Uzbek street cleaners, right? Right??


The increase in immigration to the (much poorer!) countries neighboring Russia has if anything been bigger than the increase in emigration to developed Western countries.

If you honestly believe that Russians are escaping Mordor to earn their keep in the cottonfields of the Fergana Valley then you will believe anything.

Even Russian emigration to Ukraine has soared. Apart from Masha Gaidar and a few hundred Neo-Nazis who to their horror are now realizing that they have outlived their usefulness to the Maidan regime, there are probably fewer real Russian emigrants to Ukraine than the number of times Poroshenko promised to sell his chocolate factory in Russia. It is self-evident that the increase in emigrants to Ukraine – from 19,000 in 2013 to a projected 44,000 in 2015 – was a function of the much greater intensity of border flows in general i.e. an approximate fourfold increase in recorded Ukrainian entries into Russia.

In contrast, the number of Russian “exits” to the countries of the so-called Far Abroad – especially the three that have traditionally accepted the most Russian immigrants, Germany, the US, and Israel – show much more modest increases between 2011 (the absolute nadir of Russian emigration according to official Russian statistics) and 2014. Germany: From 3,815 to 4,780; USA: from 1,422 to 1,937; Israel: From 977 to 1,139. Moreover, based on available statistics for the first ten months of 2015, the number of “exits” to all three of these countries fell by around 10% relative to 2014, and are now merely at the level they were at around 2008 (i.e. the very peak of Russia’s 2000s economic boom!).

Moreover, there is a very obvious reason for the “spike” in Russian emigration that did occur: A banal change in bureaucratic definitions. Here’s a summary from one of my commentators:

Briefly – in 2011, Rosstat has changed the way it counted migration – only those registered at an abode (a specific address) started to be counted for the “official” number. “Unofficial” number became very large because in addition to the above, those registered for 9 month+ stay in a particular place (city or town) started to be included. Before 2010, the number of incoming migrants was counted as those registered at an address plus registered at a place for 12+ months.

In 2012, a brief experiment with counting only those registered at a particular address was discontinued. The only reported definition in 2012 is the same as the “unofficial” definition in 2011, but year-to-year comparisons are done, as far as I could see, with the “official” 2011 results. This explains huge discrepancy.

The case for an Nth Wave of Russian Emigration (n=7) is now looking really weak, but one rejoinder that was made even during the n=6 period was that the countries receiving immigrants tend to keep better statistics than the country sending them. And besides, Tsar Putin wouldn’t exactly want the world to know that everyone is trying to flee his tinpot kingdom.

So let’s look at statistics from countries that receive Russian immigrants.

Canada is a a rich country with democracy, rule of law, and a climate that would be familiar to Russians. Not the worst place an exile could go to. It has never given out many permanent resident permits to Russians, and that number dropped to a record low in 2014, the year when Russia-West relations went south (the Israelis actually got marginally more permanent resident permits in 2014).

The US gave out 7,502 Permanent Resident permits to Russians in 2010; 8,548 in 2011; 10,114 in 2012; and 10,154 in 2013. (The average during the 1990s was around 45,000 a year).

Steve Sailer can write what he wants, but current Russian emigration to the US is ultimately very small scale. It’s worth pointing out that in per capita terms, Germany is getting as many Permanent Resident Permits as Russians, and Poles are getting them thrice as frequently. Russia accounts for less than 15% of the European total, and Europe as a whole gets 10% of the global total. Although DHS statistics only run to 2013, I see no evidence things changed cardinally in 2014 or 2015. As for illegal Russian immigration to the US, it has always been negligible.

Finally, here are some figures from the OECD’s International Migration Database in relation to inflows of foreign population by Russian nationality.

We do see a substantial uptick in Russian emigration into OECD countries in the early 2010s. This was primarily a matter of more Russians coming to Germany, which reached 31,000 in 2013. Even allowing for a further rise in 2014, however, it would only take it back to the levels of the early 2000s, and would remain quite modest in comparison with emigration from Germany’s Eastern European neighbors. The equivalent figures in 2013 were 190,000 for Poland and 60,000 for Hungary, countries with respectively less than a third and one fifteenth of Russia’s population. In other words, these are not the sort of emigration levels that mark a “brain drain” let alone create any noticeable detrimental demographic effect.

I do not intend to paint this as any sort of “achievement” on Russia’s part. To the contrary, low Russian emigration rates to the First World are explained at least as much by its lack of access to the Schengen free travel zone and poor foreign language skills as any success it has had creating opportunities and decent living conditions at home.

But facts are facts, and Vladislav Inozemtsev’s figure of 400,000 Russian net emigrants in 2015 are in the realm of pure fantasy. Russia’s total migration balance remains positive (whether that in itself is a good or bad thing is a debate for another day), so its number of net emigrants is actually negative. Even assuming this was a simple definitional mistake, I do not even see how he could have arrived at a total emigration figure of 400,000 even going by official statistics – the great bulk of which, lest we not forget, now essentially consist of tallying back-and-forth movements between Russia and its neighbors in Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

Now to be sure, there are a lot of other tendentious arguments in Inozemtsev’s WaPo article. Contrary to what he implies, few people in Russia care much about the dollar value of their apartments since it has no relation to everyday economic life. His claims that the business climate has deteriorated are negated by Russia’s rapid rise in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings since 2012. His description of Russia in the 1990s as a “country of hope” that was attractive to investors is so utterly facetious that it is unworthy of further commentary. Suffice to say that by the end of Yeltsin’s reign even the Western media at large was begging to differ.

I would recommend Mercouris’ recent analysis of the Russian economy in 2015 for Russia Insider as an antidote, filled as it is with actual economic statistics as opposed to lazy ideological rhetoric and innuendo.

But the thing about his emigration claims is that they are just wrong on a direct factual level. One might think it remarkable that someone affiliated with Davosian-sounding institutions like the “Center for Strategic and International Studies” in Washington and “Center for Post-Industrial Studies” in Moscow would make such mistakes. Even more remarkable is that the Washington Post does not bother doing basic fact-checking.

But ultimately none of this is all that surprising.

Professional charlatans like Inozemtsev are a dime a dozen in Russia. They tend to participate or direct opaquely financed and “thinktanks” with these strange names in Moscow while being affiliated with other obscure thinktanks in the US and Europe. Publications like the WSJ and the Washington Post – the Guardian caters to the more “creative” types – solicit an article or two from them once a year, while in their day jobs they pump in neoliberal and pro-Western propaganda into Russia. Second rate bottom of the barrel Chicago School stuff that might have been fashionable in the 1980s but no longer gets any intellectual truck in economic debates in the US itself. But they continue to be wheeled out when it comes to debates on Russia because what they say, no matter how factually hazy or intellectually negligible, serves the purpose of giving an ideological backbone, and a conveniently pro-oligarch one at that, to the revolutionary Westernist opposition. Their aim is not to inform but to obfuscate.

What is perhaps the most terrifying fact of them all is that these people had a lot of influence in important Russian institutions all the way up until the start of Putin’s third term, from high level academia (the School of Higher Economics is a notable cluster) to the RIA state news agency. Inozemtsev himself taught at MGIMO in the 200s, a prestigious university specializing to churning out Russia’s diplomatic corps. That was when an effort was finally made to clean out the Aegean stables of these agents of influence. Russia is not the dictatorship they universally proclaim it to be, so they remain free to propagandize all they want from Centers for Post-Industrial Studies or thinktank positions in the US or their media pulpits in WaPo or the WSJ or even Westernist Russian media portals like Vedomosti.

But at least fewer of them are now doing it on the Russian taxpayers’ dime. And consequently, more of them are doing it from overseas. But a few disgruntled aspiring revolutionaries does not an nth wave of emigration make.

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