Russians flee Putin’s regime after Ukraine war in second wave of migration


A “second wave” of Russians is now officially settling in countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia after spending time getting their house in order.

Natalia Kolesnikova | AFP | Getty Images

For months, Vladimir has been preparing the papers and putting his affairs in order for a move to France.

A visa application process that was once relatively easy is now complex, but the 37-year-old is confident getting his family and employees out of Russia will be worth it.

“On the one hand, it’s comfortable to live in the country where you were born. But on the other hand, it’s about the safety of your family,” Vladimir told CNBC via video call from his office in Moscow.

For Vladimir, the decision to leave the country he has called home all his life “was not made overnight”. During the reign of President Vladimir Putin, he observed what he called “the erosion of politics and freedom” in Russia for several years. But the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine was the last straw.

“I think in a year or two it will be so bad,” he said of his country.

The Russian Embassy in London and the Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The “second wave” of migration to Russia

Vladimir is part of what he sees as the “second wave” of migration from Russia after the war. This includes those who took longer to prepare to leave the country, such as people with businesses or families who wanted to let their children finish the school year before leaving.

Such flexibility was not given to everyone. When Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, alongside the Millions of Ukrainians forced to flee their homes, life for some Russians became untenable overnight.

Once the flow starts and people start figuring out how to do things…it gets more people to leave.

Jeanne Batalova

Senior Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute

A “first wave” of artists, journalists and others openly opposed to Putin’s regime felt they had to leave the country immediately or risk political persecution for violating the Kremlin’s crackdown on public dissent.

“A lot of people have received notices saying they are traitors,” said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, noting the backlash some Russians have suffered — even from neighbors.

But as the war rages on, more and more Russians decide to pack up and leave.

“The way migration works is that once the flow starts and people start figuring out how to do things – getting a flat, applying for asylum, finding a job or starting a business – it incentivizes more people to leave. It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle,” Batalova said.

An exodus by hundreds of thousands

There is no concrete data on the number of Russians who have left the country since the start of the war. However, a Russian economist put the total at 200,000 by mid-March.

That figure is likely to be much higher now, according to Batalova, as tens of thousands of Russians have moved to Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Israel, the Baltic states and beyond.

“If you look at the different destinations people have gone to, those numbers ring true,” she said. And that’s not even counting the large Russian diaspora abroad, many of them in Southeast Asia, who chose not to return home after the invasion. Batalova puts that figure at around 100,000.

There are no hard data on the number of people who fled Russia after the war, although economists estimate between 200,000 and 300,000 as of mid-March.

Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

In the technology sector alone, around 50,000 to 70,000 professionals left in the first month of the war, with another 70,000 to 100,000 expected to follow soon after, according to a Russian IT industry trade group. .

Some start-up founders like Vladimir, who runs a software service for restaurants, have decided to relocate their businesses and staff overseas, choosing countries with access to capital, such as France, the UK, Spain and Cyprus. Vladimir moves his wife and school-aged child, along with his team of four and their families, to Paris.

They follow more mobile freelance Russian tech workers who have already flocked to low-visa countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey.

You are witnessing a massive brain drain. The disruption for talented people is huge.

Then there is a third group of tech workers at large Russian IT companies who leave more out of obligation than choice.

Mikhail Mizhinsky, founder of Relocode, a company that helps tech companies relocate, said these people face a particularly difficult situation.

Many have received ultimatums from foreign clients to stop doing business with Russia. For them, it’s a mix between low costs in Bulgaria, Russian influence in Serbia and tax advantages in Armenia, according to Mizhinsky.

“Most of them don’t necessarily want to leave Russia, where their home is,” he said. “But, on the other hand, they have their customers buying their outsourced IT products and services asking them to leave. Many have received letters from customers saying they will terminate their contracts if they don’t leave Russia. “

The well-educated and the wealthy

The tech sector is one of many professional services industries that have seen an exodus of talent from major Russian cities as people reject war and deteriorating business conditions.

Scott Antel, an international hospitality and franchise lawyer who has spent nearly two decades working in Moscow, has so far this year helped five friends move from Russia to Dubai, in several cases buying them properties , without seeing them, to speed up the move.

“You’re seeing a massive brain drain,” said Antel, whose departing friends span the legal and consulting professions, as well as hospitality and real estate. “The disruption for talented people is huge and will be even bigger.”

About 15,000 millionaires are expected to leave Russia this year, adding to the growing number of people migrating amid President Putin’s war.

Oleg Nikishin | Getty ImagesNews

“Many of them feel they have lost their country,” he continued. “In reality, will that change in a few years? No.”

And it’s not just professionals who seek the stability of overseas markets like Dubai. Remaining politically neutral amid international sanctions, the emirate has also become a destination of choice for Russia’s wealthiest, many of them shifting their wealth to its luxury. real estate market.

Indeed, around 15,000 millionaires are expected to leave Russia this year, according to a June report by London-based citizenship-by-investment firm Henley & Partners, with Dubai ranking as the top location for the super rich.

Distrust of host countries

The ongoing second exodus comes amid reports that some of the earliest Russian emigrants have returned home, due to both family and work ties, as well as difficulties with travel restrictions and banking sanctions.

However, Batalova said she expects these comebacks to be short-lived.

“I bet that emigration from Russia will continue, and when people come back, it will be to sell goods, houses, and then leave again,” she said.

But questions remain about the welcome some Russian emigrants might receive in their host country, she said.

They don’t want Russia to come later and try to protect Russians in those host countries like they did with the diaspora in Ukraine.

Jeanna Batalova

Senior Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute

“In this conflict, Russia is seen as the aggressor, and this attitude is transmitted to the emigrants. Even if they [Russian migrants] are against the system, public sentiment can be transferred to newcomers,” Batalova said.

Indeed, there is a very real fear among some host countries that an influx of Russian migrants could see them become the target of a future Russian invasion. Moscow has argued that part of the rationale for its so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine was the “liberation” of Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine that is home to significant numbers of ethnic Russians.

According to Batalova, countries like Georgia, Armenia and the Baltic states — all of which have suffered from Russian aggression in the past and have national security concerns — are likely to be particularly anxious.

“They don’t want Russia to come later and try to protect Russians in those host countries like they did with the diaspora in Ukraine,” she noted.

Still, Vladimir is not discouraged. He hopes for a fresh start in his family’s search for a new home outside of Russia.

“As for the negativity, I’m sure that’s not 100% true for everyone. In any country and with any passport, people can relate to each other,” he said. -he declares.

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