Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Besieged Russian Democrats Unlikely to Emigrate, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Baku, February 6 – Recent requests by a small number of Russian intellectuals for asylum in the West are not harbingers of a new mass emigration by that country’s embattled democrats, close observers of this group say, but a few Russian officials at odds with the current regime in Moscow may in fact decide to move abroad.
In Soviet times, many Russians sought and gained political asylum in Western countries, but since 1991, relatively few have done so. Now, however, there is evidence that at least some people in the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin are planning or at least hoping to make that kind of move.
A few days ago, Nikolai Andrushenko, the co-founder of Noviy Peterburg, sent letters to Western leaders from his jail cell saying that he was renouncing his Russian citizenship and requesting that one or more of these heads of state grant him asylum in their countries.
That declaration came on the heels of reports that Russian journalist Aleksandr Kosvintsev had asked for and received political asylum in Ukraine. And two days ago, Russian lawyer Boris Kuznetsov, who has defended politicians and journalists in trouble with the Kremlin, has asked for asylum in the United States.
Not surprisingly, this relatively large number of asylum seekers in such a short time has led some in Moscow to speculate that increasing repression at home may lead more Russian intellectuals, liberal democrats, and perhaps others to seek the protections of residence outside of Russia.
The New Region news agency asked three leading students of Russian intellectual life for their opinions on that possibility. They were unanimous in saying that no new emigration was likely, not because there were no reasons to leave but because starting up abroad is so difficult for most (
Boris Kagarlitskiy, the director of the Moscow Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, was the most dismissive of this possibility. He said that even the Russian opposition had no good reason to seek asylum in the West or in countries where there have been “orange-style” revolutions.
Such people, he said, have not suffered the kind of repressive behavior that their Soviet predecessors did, and “being kept off television in prime time, you will agree, is not one and the same thing as a beating,” however hurt those deprived of that opportunity may feel.
Moreover, the commentator said, Russians in this category have yet another reason not to go: there is no certainty that having gained asylum, they would have “guaranteed themselves automatic free access to media and financial resources” that they would need to continue their activities.
Aleksandr Kynyev, who works at the Moscow Foundation for the Development of Information Policy, agreed. He said that it is too “early to speak about a new wave of emigration from Russia,” especially since many people believe there will be changes after Putin leaves office.
“In the history of Russia,” he pointed out, there has not been a case when the political and social configuration in the country under a new leader exactly copied that under his predecessor.” And many, especially in business circles, hope for improvements, however many reasons there appear to be for skepticism about that.
And Valery Khomyakov, a Moscow political scientist, said that if any larger group of people does leave, it is likely to be former governors, mayors, or other senior officials who have run afoul of the Kremlin. They have both a reason to leave and usually the means to support themselves once they are out.
Consequently, while there probably will be the occasional asylum request, there is not going to be a new wave of emigration or even a rising tide of asylum applications. Neither conditions in Russia itself nor those in the countries Russians might want to live in support that, the three experts suggested.

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