Friday, May 21, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Regions Ministry Proposes New Approach for Compatriots as Foreign Ministry Draws Fire for Its Shortcomings in That Area

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 21 – The Russian regional affairs ministry has drafted a new program to support compatriots who come to “strategically important” regions, even as the Russian Foreign Ministry has come under fire not only for the criminal activity of one of its officers working in this area but for its failure to take work with compatriots seriously.
Maksim Travnikov, the deputy regional development minister, said that his agency had developed a plan that allows compatriots to settle anywhere they want in the Russian Federation but that provides assistance only to those who settle in “strategically important and priority regions” (
All returning compatriots will receive assistance with travel costs and with the acquisition of citizenship, but those who go to these priority places, such as the Far East, can count on more help, as long as the regional governments involved come up with a specific program “for receiving new residents.”
Commenting on this proposal, Aleksandra Dokuchayeva, who specializes on diaspora and migration issues at the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries, said that Travnikov’s proposal does nothing to address the chief problems immigrant compatriots face: finding work and finding housing.
If those issues are addressed, she said, the number of compatriots abroad – ethnic Russians and Russian speakers – interested in coming to Russia would be large. In Kazakhstan, she said, about 25 percent of the people in these categories are prepared to come; and in Kyrgyzstan, seven out of ten say they would like to move to the Russian Federation.
Others doubt that the numbers are that high. Pavel Salin, an expert at the Moscow Center for Political Conjuncture, said that those who wanted to come have done so, and those who have not, such as the ethnic Russians in the Baltic states, are more interested in improving their situation where they now are than in making any leap into the unknown by coming to Russia.
The “Gudok” report about the regional affairs ministry proposal feeds into a larger debate in Moscow sparked by a bill introduced by the Russian foreign ministry that would sharply limit both the number of compatriots by changing the definition of such people and the responsibility of the ministry’s offices abroad to provide even those with assistance.
That proposal has been much criticized, and this week, a criminal case against one foreign ministry official involved with compatriots in Latin America has provided another occasion for supporters of compatriots to criticize the foreign ministry as failing Russia in this area.
The details of the bribery case are not all that interesting: that kind of corruption happens in many places. But the comments of Igor Beloborodov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Demographic Research, are important as a measure of public unhappiness about the foreign ministry’s work in this area (
Saying that reports about this case could not leave anyone indifferent, Beloborodov said that it is clear to him that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has adopted apposition very far from the compatriots, from their problems, aspirations, hopes and requests for help.” Instead, Russia’s diplomats seem intent on making the lives of compatriots more difficult than necessary.
Other countries which are interested in attracting their compatriots to come do far more, he continued. Israel, for example, has a Ministry of Absorption, “the very title of which shows that this organ is called upon to integrate as many representatives of this country as possible or in other works to help [them] return to the land of their ancestors.”
“Such an approach,” the Moscow expert said, “cannot fail to get respect,” especially in comparison with the Russian foreign ministry where all kinds of things are mixed together and where helping compatriots is far down the list of the tasks that Russian diplomats feel they are responsible for and will gain rewards.
Russia should consider creating a ministry similar to the one Israel has, Beloborodov says, but “of course, it is important not simply to create an administration of ministry” but “to staff it with people who at a minimum have a state-thinking approach” and experience with compatriot issues.
It is time to ask, the Russian specialist concluded, whether “we need such a ministry.” Or perhaps there is “another question” that should be asked: Does Russia have a foreign ministry that is working for it, or is that institution more concerned with protecting its staff and working for some other country instead?

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