Vienna, June 11 – Ten people – nine ethnic Russians from Latvia and one ethnic Armenian from Yerevan – arrived in Kaliningrad on Friday as the first participants in Moscow’s program to support “the voluntary resettlement of compatriots” living abroad into Russia itself, the Federal Migration Service announced.
On arrival at the airport in that non-contiguous portion of the Russian Federation, the small group was met by local officials and journalists, both of whom “Vremya novostei” pointed on Saturday vastly outnumbered what that Moscow paper called “the pioneers of our West.”
Kaliningrad Governor Georgiy Boos, who has regularly spoken about the need for millions of those living abroad to his region and elsewhere in Russia to help solve demographic, economic and even security challenges and has announced plans to incorporate 300,000 such people over the next five years, put the best face on things.
“Welcome, dear compatriots,” Boos declared, “on your return to the historic Motherland!” (http://www.pravda.ru, June 9).
Other officials there said that they expected that the returnee program, which offers individuals a one-time payment of up to 40,000 rubles (1600 U.S. dollars), assistance in finding housing and a job, and subsidies until they are back on their feet, would attract about 50,000 people in 2008 (http://www.etnosfera.ru/ogl.php).
The program, currently functioning in 12 “pilot” regions including Kaliningrad, is only beginning, Migration Service officials said. And Kaliningrad leaders indicated that they expected the numbers to quickly rise to the point that Boos and his colleagues would not be able to take the time to meet all of them.
That there is interest in this program, officials in Kaliningrad say, is beyond doubt: some 12,000 people from across Eurasia have expressed interest in it in letters, telephone calls and emails to them. But only 1200 of them have indicated that they want to come after learning more.
Given that and given the publicity extended to the first small group, one of whom already has a job in Kaliningrad and two of whom had earlier experiences there, it does not seem likely that the number of “returnees” will by themselves address Russia’s demographic problems.
But there is one thing such appeals and programs certainly will do: They will lead many in the populations and governments of the former Soviet republics and especially the Baltic states to view ethnic Russians living among them with more suspicion than otherwise.
That in turn could threaten the progress many of these countries have made in integrating all those who live on their territories, thereby destabilizing a region that is emerging from a time of troubles and encouraging those in Moscow who would like to pursue an even more interventionist line against these states.