The second challenge is the transfer of aggression to Ukraine

January 9, 2023

The increase in the number of Russian emigrants is one of the consequences of the partial mobilization decided in Moscow in September. In this particular case, the political problems are in the West and the economic boom in the East, as seen in the South Caucasus. While welcoming millions of Ukrainian war refugees is a challenge for the European Union, the influx of Russian “deserters” will also weigh on European geopolitics in the medium term.

For more than a decade, the flow of refugees has posed a challenge to the Union: its cohesion, its cohesion, its ability to guarantee its borders and the coherence of its neighborhood policies, these are formidable challenges raised by any mass migratory movement. and fast. According to various European modalities, the issues of migration and identity are eminently political, like the recent Franco-Italian pass of arms. Also, the war in Ukraine has led, since February, to the departure of many Russians from their country of origin. Particular attention was paid in Europe to the question of their reception; however, the question arises differently in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan is less concerned about it.

What is the EU’s response to Russia’s move?

If war is mainly a question of weapons, disputed territory and the risk of escalation, the fate of civilian populations counts, as does population movement. Thus, Russian strikes on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, by depriving the civilian population of water, electricity or heating, risk leading to new large waves of Ukrainian refugees. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has also repeatedly urged those who might leave the capital, which has three million inhabitants. International solidarity networks are trying to organize themselves to help civilian populations, while according to figures from November 2022, 7.8 million Ukrainians have been received in European countries, that is, almost 17% of the population. , not counting those taken to Russia.

Along with these developments, Russia has also experienced a huge wave of migration following the partial mobilization decreed by Vladimir Putin on September 21. Astute commentators will note that Russia is the first country in the world to have of its own labor force that fled when it declared war. Once again we witness the decline of Russia’s human capital, the departures mainly involving well-rounded and qualified men. In the long term, these migrations will accentuate Russia’s structural demographic weakness.

Whether or not to accept people fleeing the Russian regime has sparked a debate within the European Union. Similar to issuing tourist visas to Russian nationals as we pointed out in Telos. Should we accept these refugees from a country recently identified by the European Parliament as a “terrorist state”? On the contrary, wouldn’t their presence in Russia help weaken the regime from within? If we don’t help these refugees, can we hide ourselves from the humanist values ​​that are regularly claimed? Doesn’t their presence pose a threat to European security? Is it not better to welcome them than to see them grow the ranks of those mobilized on Ukrainian soil?

Suspicion of these “tourists” reigns, and several states have worked to end tourist visas for Russians. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas pleaded in this direction for reasons of credibility and morality in August, against Greece, Cyprus or Germany who pleaded in the opposite direction for more realism. Although MEPs chose to reject passports issued by Russia in its occupied territories of Georgia and Ukraine at the end of November, it now does not prevent people fleeing the conflict from entering the EU on humanitarian grounds. This is because these movements are read differently: for some, Russian migrants voted against the war with their feet.

At the very least, emigration is an indicator of disobedience and disobedience to Kremlin rules. This mass migration 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 led to the creation of a specific policy, the Nansen passport, which allowed the reception of refugees. The idea of ​​this passport was put forward by Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees of the League of Nations, and essentially concerns people who have become stateless through the Soviet decree of December 15, 2021, which revoked the nationality of all emigrants.(including Igor Stravinsky, Marc Chagall or the young Vladimir Nabokov…). At that time, some crossed the borders of 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 discriminated against the waves of migration from the Middle East, the reception of Russian refugees is the subject of debate. But, more surprisingly, in the post-Soviet space, the states that received the arrival of Russians experienced faster economic growth due to these arrivals.

An economic windfall for the Caucasus?

While the relations between the states and between the leaders are now complicated between Moscow, Tbilisi and Yerevan, the flight of the Russians gave an unexpected and accidental boost to the economy of Armenia and Georgia. In any case, this was shown by the economist Ruben Enikolopov, in an article published in Gazeta Wyborcza.

This is a reversal of the trend, since Russia appeared until recently as a center of economic attraction, the transition took place in the opposite direction in the past. Moscow in particular is a heavy consumer of active populations from former Soviet socialist republics (Moldova, Armenia, Central Asian states) to compensate for its acute manpower shortage.

In general, for the countries concerned, the new arrivals immediately increased the internal demand for almost all types of goods and, consequently, the trade turnover. A large part of the migrants moved their capital and businesses to the new country, and often Russians work or look for work mainly in the field of IT, trade, but also construction and services.

Of the million Russian citizens who have had to flee their country since the start of the war, the post-Soviet countries have been privileged. The 150,000 Russians who came to Armenia, mainly educated young people aged 20-45, thus increased the potential labor force of this country of less than three million inhabitants to almost a tenth. A landlocked country with no 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 where part of the territory was occupied by Russia following the August 2008 conflict. Despite close economic relations with Russia and Ukraine, Georgia has experienced continued economic growth. (10% expected in 2022, according to the IMF), concentrated around the cities of Tbilisi and Batumi: 113,000 refugees have been accepted (about 3% of the population), and an estimated 60,000 have opened accounts in Georgian banks . Between January and the end of October 2022, 2.2 billion dollars from Russia represent 12.6% of Georgian GDP. 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 conflict began. It is a mix of opponents who are preparing to live in exile for a long time and young people who can be mobilized who want to avoid being used as cannon fodder. But, here again, the reception is favorable to this candidate country for accession to the European Union because the level of growth has increased.

These developments, which can also be observed in the same way in some former republics in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan), have a similar effect, in terms of local consumption or remittances. This is not without negative effects, as this strong growth also stimulates inflation, unemployment and underemployment remain a problem for public opinion, while new arrivals cause social tensions and controversies. A large majority of Georgia’s population is concerned about the overly favorable conditions offered to Russian emigrants, in a country where the memory of the August 2008 war has been reactivated by the Russian-Ukrainian war.

As for Russia, due to these migrations, it risks facing a shortage of people between the ages of 20 and 30 due to the war, after suffering a significant excess of mortality in the 1990s and then more recently with covid. Former President Dmitry Medvedev compounded this danger by suggesting that those who had recently left Russia be barred from the territory, designated as “enemies of society”, echoing the term “enemy of the people” at the time of the Soviet.

The fate of Russian citizens who fled the mobilization and the war in the Caucasus and in Serbia should 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 in the short term from the wealth effect, on the other hand, if these communities are established in the long term, they will have an impact on public opinion at a time when both Georgia and Serbia are cultivating their candidacy for on the EU and its relations with Moscow. Last but not least, these Russian communities were mixed between outright political opponents and simple refugees from the mobilization. Russian minorities abroad are promised to (re)become an issue for the continent.

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