Caspian Region Receives Russians Fleeing Crackdown and Impact of Sanctions
Mar 25, 2022
In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the unprecedented sanctions since imposed against Russia’s economy, hundreds of thousands of Russians have left their country for an uncertain future of life abroad. Largely young and well-educated, this new, emerging diaspora left Russia both in search of greater political freedom and for economic opportunity as commercial linkages between Russia on the one hand and Europe and North America on the other have collapsed.
While Russians with the financial means have re-located largely without a hitch to Dubai and London, others without such resources have taken to looking closer to home. While Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and Rīga, Latvia, have become small centers for Russians newly abroad, Georgia and Armenia have reportedly emerged as among the most popular destinations for Russians looking for an exit. Property markets in Armenia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan have been overwhelmed by a combination of new Russian residents and returning citizens fleeing Russia’s dire economic situation.
Those who have left include a vocal minority who in past years participated in protests against the regime, Russia’s last remaining independent journalists, and young professionals hoping to preserve their careers amidst unprecedented sanctions on the Russian economy. Passport-issuing offices are backed up with applicants, rendering trapped many Russians who would otherwise leave. Some have likened the migration to the exodus of the Whites, supporters of the Russian Tsar and other conservative forces, in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War.
There remains an information gap because the circumstances and actual number of Russians fleeing abroad have yet to be fully understood. Russian migrants to the South Caucasus and Central Asia left Russia in a hurry. And authorities in the region have released information on arrivals in the past several weeks irregularly, complicating efforts to account for the population shift.
Moreover, the unanticipated circumstances that led to migration have forced Russians in many cases to accept great uncertainty because the course of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led not only to the most serious breakdown in Russia’s relationship with Europe and North America in memory, but also a deepening of repression and pending economic crisis within Russia.
How long these newcomers will stay in the South Caucasus and Central Asia remains an open question, since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine continues without any kind of resolution in sight. Countries in the region should work carefully with European and North American partners to ensure that the arrival of even more Russian businesses in their countries does not, consciously or unwittingly, threaten them with secondary sanctions.
Policy-makers in the West should likewise take a pro-active and constructive approach. While a larger Russian business presence in the Caspian region complicates the enforcement of the sanctions regime, it represents both an opportunity to pull Russia’s business world out from the Kremlin’s repressive political machinery and a consolation for America’s partners in the region whose economies have suffered as a result of Russia’s new economic isolation. Countries across the Caspian region, and around the world, should continue to keep their doors open for Russians wishing to leave. In doing so, they might just attract the most ambitious and vibrant elements of Russian society that Russian President Vladimir Putin has driven off. Washington should work closely with these countries to provide assistance, as needed, to help them settle and integrate the new arrivals from Russia.