WASHINGTON, DC, Mar 8 – The good news is that Russia’s cowardly assault on Ukraine is having a backlash at home. The Russian people – those who can – are packing their bags and leaving in droves. The speculation suggests that by the time the war is over, “Vlad the Impaler” Putin may not have much of a country to push around.
The Ukraine war appears to be accelerating a “brain drain” that’s been going on for the past few years. According to the Washington D.C. based Atlantic Council, “Since President Vladimir Putin’s ascent to the presidency, between 1.6 and 2 million Russians—out of a total population of 145 million—have left for Western democracies and some new destinations where they can be freer with their skills put to a better use. This emigration sped up with Putin’s return as president in 2012, followed by a weakening economy and growing repressions. It soon began to look like a politically driven brain drain, causing increasing concern among Russian and international observers.”
Since the invasion of Ukraine, protests have broken out throughout Russia. Reuters reports that police have arrested more than 4,300 protestors in 56 cities throughout the country, according to OVD-Info, an organization that monitors politically-motivated persecutions and cases of abuse of authority by Russian police officers. “The screws are being fully tightened – essentially, we are witnessing military censorship,” says OVD spokeswoman Maria Kuznetsova. It’s likely the number of Russian citizens who feel the same way are likely to join the brain drain sooner or later.
In fact, Oleg Itskhoki, professor of economics at the University of California in Los Angeles, says, “People want to leave in mass quantities now, but there are severe restrictions on mobility as a result of sanctions — closed embassies, closed skies for flying … So, in fact, fewer people will be able to leave even if more people are trying harder to leave now. This is particularly relevant for educated, informed people.”
Despite those hurdles, would-be ex-pats are finding ways to get out. The British newspaper, The Telegraph, writes that they are getting out of town as fast as they can by the thousands. And another economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Nikolai Roussanov, says, “In the long run, brain drain might be the most important problem for Russia,” noting that the exodus will see an acceleration in time.
It’s not going to be easy for them; airlines are suspending flights in and out of Russia due to the war, and Moscow has ruled that travelers who can book flights are limited to the amount of money they can take with them.
In addition, rumors have been spreading that Putin would impose martial law to deal with Russian dissenters. He’s denied that, but the British Ministry of Defence says he has, indeed, changed the law in Russia, threatening to impose stiff fines and prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading so-called “fake” information about the Ukraine war.
The conclusion of the aforementioned Atlantic Council analysis is noteworthy in light of Putin’s unabashed despotic attitude toward his neighbors in Ukraine and his countrymen at home: “Our study suggests that the Putin Exodus is composed of highly educated and socially aware individuals— lending support to the idea that this is, in fact, a ‘brain drain. The study also indicates that this emigration is composed of people who identify with the values that have made the West prosper. The results suggest that so long as authoritarianism and politically connected economic privilege continue in Russia, talented people will continue to leave. The study also undermines the notion peddled by the Kremlin that Russia represents a distinct civilization with its own distinctive values, stressing communal advantage over individual liberty and well-being.”
In other words, they are as mad as hell and don’t want to take any longer.