Washington, September 16 – One out of four people on the streets of the Far Eastern Russian city of Vladivostok are immigrants, but increasingly they come from Central Asia and even the North Caucasus rather than China, a shift that residents there and commentators in Moscow are still trying to adjust to.’
An article in the city’s newspaper, “Zolotoy rog,” today suggests that workers and their families from the five post-Soviet Central Asian countries form an ever more significant share not only of the migrant flows into Russia’s Far East but also of that region’s population as a whole (www.zrpress.ru/zr/2010/71/9).
The paper’s Oleg Zhunusov provides no precise statistical data, but his article conveys the sense of residents there that Vladivostok “is becoming an Asian region not only geographically but in terms of ethnicity” and that this reflects in the first instance “the sharply increased flow of migrants from Central Asia.”
According to Zhunusov, there are “more than 30 national diasporas” registered with the authorities and more than 150,000 immigrants to the region, But “far from all are registering,” and those from the Central Asian republics, fleeing unemployment and “bloody conflicts” are less likely to be registered than are those from China or the Koreas.
A major reason why this influx of migrants is so noticeable is what the “Zolotoy rog” journalist calls “the unfavorable demographic situation” in the region. Since 1992, the population has declined by 352,000 over all to only 1.9 million, working age Russians are leaving for west of the Urals, the death rate exceeds the birthrate, and the population is aging.
As a result, people feel that “the Asians are replacing the indigenous population.” And they are angry that Moscow’s demographic plans for the Russian Far East through 2025 do not address their concerns and require that those moving in adapt to local mores rather than continue to act as they did in their homelands.
And Russians in Vladivostok are focusing on a fundamental contradiction within Russian migration policy. Moscow sets quotas for “legal persons” like companies, but it allows the sale of “licenses” or “patents” to physical persons, that is individuals, who can thus bust the quotas with ease even when these are enforced.
This situation is rapidly coming to a head, Zhunusov says. “A significant portion of those arriving not only cannot write or even speak Russian. Moreover, their knowledge of the habits of the local population and Russian laws” is almost non-existent. Consequently, he concludes that all this is “creating conditions for conflicts.”
Zhunusov’s article is important for at least three reasons: First, it calls attention to “the other Asians” in the immigration flows in the Far East. For too long, commentators in Moscow and analysts in the West have focused only on the Chinese or perhaps the Koreans arriving there. The Central Asians may matter more.
Second, it highlights the way in which ethnic Russians in the Far East now view the Central Asians or even the North Caucasians as just as alien as the Chinese or others traditionally counted as Asians. That in turn means that the more Central Asians who come to Siberia or the Far East, the greater tensions are likely to be.
And third, Zhunusov’s article suggests that the people of Siberia and the Russian Far East are now on a collision course with Moscow, whose representatives in the North Caucasus like Ingushetia’s Yunus-Bek Yevkurov want to send more North Caucasians to Russia east of the Urals to solve the unemployment problem in the North Caucasus.
Sending such people there might help solve one socio-political problem in the troubled North Caucasus, Zhunusov’s article suggests, only at the price of exacerbating, possibly to the level of serious violence, socio-political problems elsewhere, far deeper inside the Russian Federation.