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October 21, 2004 by AK

Russia’s demographics: Putin’s solution

According to the BBC,

Russia and Tajikistan have signed an accord to make legal hundreds of thousands of Tajik migrants in Russia.

That’s the introductory paragraph; the rest of the report is mostly whining and hand-wringing over the Tajik illegals’ pitiable lot.

Speaking at the second all-Russian Azeri congress, Putin announced that “all manifestations of xenophobia will be uncompromisingly suppressed in Russia.”

These are good intentions for sure, only that a good deal of the xenophobia Putin claims to be worried about arises from massive immigration into Moscow and other large cities, as well as depopulated small towns and villages, from former Soviet republics. The bulk of the immigrants are not ethnic Russians or Ukrainians; Russian is not their first language; hence the ethnic tensions. Azeris in particular — mostly recent immigrants, many of whom are illegal — make up a rather significant share of Moscow’s population, at least a few hundred thousand out of the ten million.

Needless to say, foreign immigrants compete in major cities with newcomers from Russian provinces for jobs and business, and, relying on the support of their ethnic communities, often gain a major competitive advantage (given the rent-seeking character of many sectors) over the more individualistic Russians. The latter include Russophone immigrants from ex-Soviet parts of Asia, who, although legally indistinguishable from other CIS aliens, are typically better educated and culturally more compatible with the Russian mainstream.

As President, Putin is suppose to act in the interests of Russian citizens, most of whom live outside of the five or ten largest cities and are therefore potential migrants. He should also be aware of low labor mobility within Russia and its crippling impact on upward social mobility for the native-born. Foreign immigration is an extra signal to Russian provincials to stay put. But if Putin cares more about keeping Russian influence over Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, he may think the price is worth paying. I don’t; we have no reason to be amused.


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