Staunton, September 30 – Moscow spent less than a quarter of the amount it had budgeted to attract compatriots living abroad to come back to Russia, some 1.8 billion rubles (60 million US dollars) instead of eight billion rubles (260 million US dollars), a cutback that reflects Russia’s economic problems but reduces the chance that Moscow will attract many to return.
That has two major consequences. On the one hand, it means that an increasing share of the growing influx of migrant workers to the Russian Federation this year and in the future will consist of non-Russians culturally dissimilar from the titular nationality, a trend certain to exacerbate inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions there.
And on the other, this cutback means that Moscow will likely be playing a smaller role in the lives of the ethnic Russian communities of the former Soviet republics and Baltic states, despite the claims of ethnic Russian activists in those countries and the desire of some Russian nationalists to use ethnic Russian communities there to promote closer ties.
In reporting this development, Aleksandr Raskin, the deputy chief editor of “Expert Online,” argues that these cutbacks put the entire program at risk, even though officials like Federal Migration Service chief Konstantin Poltoranin insist that this reduction “does not mean the liquidation of the program” (www.expert.ru/articles/2010/09/29/krizisn_sootechestvenniki/).
According to FMS officials, Raskin continues, their institution asked for the reductions because its analysts concluded that no more than 20,000 people would move to the Russian Federation, far fewer than many Moscow officials and politicians had been projecting only a few years ago.
When the program was designed for the period 2007 to 2012, officials projected that 132,400 people would return – others suggested that as many as 300,000 would do so, Raskin notes -- but in fact only 8800 have done so thus far despite budgetary allocations totally 18.3 billion rubles (600 million US dollars).
Over the last several years, Russian officials have sought to promote in-migration of compatriots to economically weak regions rather than to Moscow or other major cities by offering more money to those prepared to move to the former and much less to those who want to go to the latter.
While FMS officials continue to be upbeat, many other parts of the bureaucracy are not. Igor Lyakin-Frolov, the deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s information department, for example, told Raskin that “the program is really ineffective.” He added that various ministries, including his own, are discussing how to transform it.
FMS officials acknowledge that there are problems, including their inability to guarantee those who return that they will have appropriate housing. Doing that depends on the regions, and some of them are not very helpful. Moscow’s role is limited, they say, to ensuring that those who return obtain Russian Federation citizenship on an expedited basis.
Independent analysts, Raskin continues, are very skeptical about the program, with some arguing that Moscow hasn’t supported it adequately and others saying it is poorly designed. Dmitry Oreshkin, a political scientist, says that Moscow should have addressed this issue 15 or more years ago when many more ethnic Russians were interested in moving.
During the early 1990s, he points out, Russia absorbed up to a million compatriots each year because “people were fleeing from real threats” in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Russia did not treat these people especially well with regards to housing and employment, but at the same time, it did not ignore them either.
The situation changed in the mid-1990s. Local and regional officials were less interested in taking in the large number of professionals for whom there were no obvious jobs. And many in Moscow “began to think that a return to the USSR was possible” and that the continued presence of ethnic Russians in the former republics would help promote that.
Guram Sanikidze, former deputy director of the Russian bureau of the International Migration Organization, is more skeptical than most of the Russian analysts. He suggests that people are not going to move to Russia -- “they do not have money for that” – and that as a result, “the program is condemned to failure.”
The amount of money, now reduced still further, is not enough to meet the nearly one million rubles (33,000 US dollars) a family needs to make the move, Sanikidze says. The amount Moscow is offering is thus “a drop in the bucket” and won’t convince all but the most frightened to move.
Instead, he concludes, “this is a propaganda program, used by the administration of Vladimir Putin as one of the aspects of the pre-election presidential race which is beginning now in Russia.” It may make for good public relations, but it is not something likely to have the consequences Moscow says it hopes for on the ground.