European Russians and Russian Europeans: Political Attitudes and Expectations of the Anti-War Migrants

26.8.2022
Hundreds of thousands of highly qualified and politically active Russians have left the country due to the war in Ukraine. They are likely to integrate with their host societies and unlikely to return. Most of them are capable of building political networks and civil society groups.

ALEKSANTERI INSIGHT 3/2022. About 200,000 Russians fled soon after Russia started the invasion of Ukraine. This is the biggest brain drain since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among these emigres are leading experts in top-notch industries including the IT sector. The outflow of the highly qualified labour force will lead to the loss of human capital and knowledge. At the same time, the exodus alters the homeland's political landscape as well as that of the destination states. According to the United Nations, Russia ranks among the top five in both the number of migrants and the number of its citizens living abroad. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the number of people leaving Russia has increased dramatically. For the most part, migrants head to countries that do not require entry visas – Turkey, Armenia and Georgia. Finland, on the other hand, is operating as one of the most popular transit states, on a par with the Baltic states: few of the migrants plan to stay in Finland.

Will these migrants form an alternative intellectual hub for a democratising Russia? Would they become co-creators of an alternative imagery of Russia? Here we offer a cursory look at the Russian migrants, drawing on an original survey carried out from 28 March to 4 April 2022. Since the characteristics of the population data of migrants are unknown, we rely on a convenience sample of 1,700 respondents recruited via online relocation groups and Telegram channels as well as networks close to the OK Russians project (okrussians.org). The project focuses on providing assistance with relocation and regularly monitors migrants’ situations.

As in previous migration waves, these are not purely economic migrants in search of a better life, but predominantly representatives of the political opposition. Fear of political persecution and possible military draft are among the decisive factors that have forced people out of the country. The current migration wave mostly consists of middle-class highly educated people with large networks and liberal political views. In other words, they are not representative of the Russian population and reflect the worldviews of particular groups of highly educated, urbanised and highly politicised citizens. Hence, this is neither a typical refugee wave nor economic migration. The majority of the sample respondents settled down in Turkey (24.9%), Georgia (23.4%) and Armenia (15.1%). The most popular European destination countries were Serbia (1.9%), Montenegro (1.7%), Estonia (1.6%), Germany (1.6%), Spain (1.5%) and France (1.1%).

There is evidence that the migrants organise coordination and charity groups and actively engage in helping Ukrainian refugees and spreading politically relevant information to the international community and those who remain in Russia. These new solidarity groups may serve as fertile soil for alternative political mobilisation and discussion arenas. On the other hand, tensions may arise with older migrant communities of Russian-speakers. Finally, the coordination problem remains acute for the Russian opposition abroad. The success of the pro-democratic and anti-war movement also largely depends upon migrants’ ability to maintain ties with those remaining in Russia.

Margarita Zavadskaya works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute and is the principal investigator on the Electoral Malpractice, Cyber-security, and its Political Consequences in Russia and Beyond (ElMaRB) project.