Russians flee repression, economic collapse

Warner Speed

Russian citizens are fleeing the country in the hundreds of thousands in the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

On March 13, the BBC estimated that as many as 200,000 Russians have left the country since the beginning of the war. Many Russian citizens have crossed into Finland and the Baltic states, while those without European visas have fled to countries who have not yet closed their airspace to Russian flights, such as Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, and Serbia. As of March 20, the mayor of Tbilisi reported that 25,000 Russians have arrived in the Georgian capital alone.

Russian émigrés are leaving home largely due to the sharp economic contraction caused by sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, Russia has experienced rising inflation, unemployment, and interest rates, while companies dependent on trade have struggled to adapt to the loss of access to foreign markets.

The Kremlin’s excessive crackdown on anti-war sentiment has driven many Russian citizens out of the country as well. In response to political unrest at home, the Russian government has enacted several repressive measures, including fines and lengthy jail sentences for expressions of anti-war sentiment.

Politico reports that some young Russians have fled the country out of fear that they could be “sent to serve on the front lines” if they speak out against the war or the regime. On March 31, Putin authorized a new draft of 134,500 conscripts, raising fears among some young Russians that they may be forced to fight in a war which they do not support.

Fleeing Russians have thus far experienced a mixed response from those in their new host countries. Armenia has in many ways embraced the exodus, as the Ministry of Economy recently published a guide for Russian businesses relocating to Armenia and instructions for transferring money out of Russian banks using cryptocurrency. Armenia’s openness to Russian capital may hinder Moscow’s attempts to halt an outflow of rubles, but it also allows Russian businesses relocating to Armenia to circumvent certain sanctions.

Georgia, on the other hand, has approached incoming Russian businesses with skepticism. The Bank of Georgia now requires Russian citizens attempting to open bank accounts in Georgia to sign a statement “declaring that Russia is an aggressive occupying power and pledging that they will not spread Russian propaganda.”

Vladimir Putin has seemingly embraced the departure of hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens, referring to the exodus as a “natural and necessary cleansing” of Russian society. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has shown signs of concern, as he has proposed economic benefits for businesses and workers in critical industries who choose to stay. The Prime Minister’s actions suggest that Russia’s ongoing brain drain may become a source of disagreement within the Kremlin.

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