For more than a decade, the flow of refugees has posed a challenge to the Union: its cohesion, its solidarity, its ability to guarantee its borders and the coherence of its neighborhood policies: these are the daunting challenges raised by any massive migratory movement and fast. According to different modalities in Europe, the issues of migration and identity are eminently political, for example the recent Franco-Italian pass of arms.
Also, the war in ukraine led, in February, to the departure of many Russians from their country of origin. Particular attention has been paid in Europe to the question of their reception; however, the question arises differently in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan being less concerned here.
A weakening of Russia’s human capital
If war is above all a question of armaments, disputed territories and the risk of escalation, the fate of civilian populations counts, just like population movements. Thus, the Russian strikes on the critical infrastructures of Ukraineby depriving civilian populations of water, electricity or heating, could lead to new large waves of Ukrainian refugees.
The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has also several times encouraged those who can to leave the capital, which has three million inhabitants. International solidarity networks are trying to organize themselves to come to the aid of civilian populations, while 7.9 million Ukrainians were received in European countriesalmost 17% of the population, not counting those who were taken to Russia.
Alongside these developments, Russia has also experienced a large wave of migration as a result of the partial mobilization decided by Vladimir Putin on September 21. Ironic commentators will observe that Russia is the first country in the world to drive away its own working population when it declared war. We are once again witnessing a weakening of the human capital of Russia, the departures largely involving well-integrated and qualified men. In the long term, these migrations will accentuate Russia’s structural demographic weakness.
What EU response to Russian migration?
Whether or not to welcome people fleeing the Russian regime had sparked debate within the European Union, as had the granting of tourist visas to Russian nationals –as we pointed out on Telos. Should we welcome these refugees from a country recently recognized by the European Parliament as a “terrorist state”? On the contrary, wouldn’t their presence in Russia contribute to weakening the regime from within? If we do not assist these refugees, can we still drape ourselves in the humanist values regularly claimed? Doesn’t their presence pose a risk to European security? Isn’t it better to welcome them than to see them swell the ranks of those mobilized on the Ukrainian ground?
Suspicion of these “tourists” reigns, and several states have worked to end tourist visas for Russians. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas thus pleaded in this direction for reasons of credibility and morality last August, against Greece, Cyprus or Germany who pleaded in the opposite direction for more realism. If MEPs made the choice, at the end of November, to refuse passports issued by Russia in the areas it occupies in Georgia and Ukraine, this does not currently prevent people fleeing the conflict from entering the EU for humanitarian reasons. It is that these movements are read differently: for some, Russian migrants vote against the war with their feet.
At the very least, emigration is an indicator of disobedience and disagreement with the orientations of the Kremlin. This mass emigration is reminiscent of the flight movement experienced by the former Russian Empire in 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution and the famines of 1921-1922, which had led to the creation of a specific policy, that of Nansen passportallowing the reception of refugees.
The idea of this passport had been put forward by Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees of the League of Nations, and had essentially concerned people who had become stateless by the Soviet decree of December 15, 2021, revoking the nationality of all emigrants. (including Igor Stravinsky, Marc Chagall or the young Vladimir Nabokov…). At the time, some managed to pass the borders from Poland, the Baltic States or Romania, but others drowned, killed by Soviet border guards; others, later, will be sent to the Gulag.
If Europe has been clear on the reception of Ukrainian refugees, at the risk of being discriminating in comparison with waves of migration from the Middle East, the reception of Russian refugees is the subject of debate. But, a more surprising phenomenon, in the post-Soviet space, the States having accepted the arrival of the Russians are experiencing faster economic growth because of these arrivals.
An economic windfall for the Caucasus?
While relations between states and between leaders are today complicated between Moscow, Tbilisi (Georgia) and Yerevan (Armenia), the flight of the Russians gave an unexpected and unintended boost to the economies of Armenia and Georgia . In any case, this is what the economist Ruben Enikolopov shows, in an article published in the Gazeta Wyborcza.
This is a reversal of the trend, since Russia appeared until recently as a center of economic attraction, migration having taken place in the opposite direction in the past. Moscow, in particular, was a major consumer of active populations from the former Soviet socialist republics (Moldova, Armenia, Central Asian states) to compensate for its chronic lack of manpower.
In general, for the countries concerned, the new arrivals immediately increased internal demand for practically all types of goods and, consequently, the turnover of the trade. A large part of the migrants have moved their capital and businesses to the new country, and often Russians work or seek employment mainly in the field of IT, trade, but also construction and services.
On the million Russian citizens who had to flee their country since the beginning of the war, the post-Soviet countries have been privileged. The 150,000 Russians who arrived in Armenia, mainly educated young people aged 20-45, have thus increased the potential labor force of this country of less than three million inhabitants by around one tenth. A landlocked country without resources, Armenia saw its economy grow by 14.8% compared to the third quarter of last year.
The same phenomenon was observed in Georgia, a country part of whose territory is occupied by Russia following the August 2008 conflict. Despite close economic ties with Russia and Ukraine, Georgia has experienced sustained economic growth (10% expected in 2022 , according to the IMF), concentrated around the cities of Tbilisi and Batumi: 113,000 refugees have been received (about 3% of the population), and an estimated 60,000 have opened accounts in Georgian banks. Between January and the end of October 2022, the 2.2 billion dollars from Russia represented 12.6% of the GDP Georgian. In fact, Russians can immediately open bank accounts there, register companies and withdraw their Russian money deposited in local banks.
Serbia has also taken in 100,000 Russian citizens since the start of the conflict. It’s all jumbled up of opponents preparing to live in exile for a long time and young mobilized wishing to avoid being used as cannon fodder. But, here again, the reception is favorable in this candidate country for accession to the European Union because the level of growth is raised.
These developments, also observable in the same way in several former Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan), have had similar effects in terms of local consumption or remittances. This is not without perverse effects, since this strong growth also stimulates inflation, unemployment and underemployment remain a problem for public opinion, while new arrivals generate social tensions and controversies. A large majority of the Georgian population is thus concerned about the excessively favorable conditions offered to Russian emigrantsin a country where the memory of the August 2008 war was reactivated by the Russian-Ukrainian war.
As for Russia, because of these migrations, it risks facing a shortage of people between the ages of 20 and 30 because of the war, after having suffered a significant excess mortality during the 1990s and then more recently with the Covid. Former President Dmitry Medvedev compounds this risk by proposing that those who have recently left Russia are inadmissiblebeing referred to as “enemies of society”, echoing the Soviet-era term “enemy of the people”.
The fate of Russian citizens who fled the mobilization and the war in the Caucasus and in Serbia must be monitored because it will have consequences for post-conflict Europe: on the one hand, the countries receiving these migrants from a particular type will benefit from a short-term wealth effect; on the other hand, if these communities become firmly established, they will have an impact on public opinion at a time when Georgia and Serbia are cultivating both their candidacy for the EU and their relations with Moscow. Last but not least, these Russian communities are composite between explicit political opponents and simple refugees of mobilization. Russian minorities abroad are promised to (re)become an issue for the continent.
The arrival of Russian emigrants in Europe, the other migration challenge of the war in Ukraine