‘Russians Should Not Claim Special Status’
June 27, 2024
  • Sergei Shelin 

    Journalist, independent analyst
Journalist Sergei Shelin objects to experts’ proposal for a new approach by the EU toward Russian emigrants. In his view, it exaggerates the importance of Russia and Russians in European minds.
The original text in Russia was published in the Moscow Times and is being republished here with the author’s permission.

Vladislav Inozemtsev, Dmitri Gudkov and Dmitri Nekrasov, who authored a report on behalf of the Center for Analysis and Strategies in Europe (CASE), a think tank, and an article summarizing it in the Moscow Times, are advising the EU authorities to admit that sanctions against Russia have not worked, sharply curb them and encourage the enlargement of Russian diasporas in their countries.

Thus, “within three to five years, Europe could accept up to three million Russians with capital of at least EUR 400-500 billion,” and the Western world would have the “rare opportunity to bleed its geopolitical enemy and secure a number of economic benefits for itself.”

Agreeing with some of the respected authors’ conclusions and even with some of their recommendations, I will allow myself a few friendly remarks.

Russians are not moving to Europe

First, about the numbers. “Three million Russians” and “EUR 400-500 billion” seem not entirely plausible even to the authors, since they appear only in the Moscow Times article. In their more detailed report, they only talk about “tens of billions of euros” and “several hundred thousand” of additional relokanty.

Indeed. The total number of emigrants from Russia to EU countries during the first year of the war with Ukraine amounted to only about 100,000. And in the second and third years, their number decreased as some of the relokanty returned to Russia.

The reason is not only the obstacles put up by the European authorities, though, without them, several times more emigrants from Russia would have moved to the EU. The main thing is that the number of people wanting to leave Russia turned out to be smaller than initially expected.

Turmoil in Russia – or just a new round of mobilization – could change everything. But until that happens, no European concessions will lure an apolitical Russian with money and professional skills to Europe. He is doing well now in his militarizing homeland.
Moreover, in a situation of turmoil, it will not be those who have money and useful skills who will flee Russia, but those who have reason to fear for their lives. This is the real, not theoretical, driver of all previous waves of refugees in Europe. And they were taken in not because the European authorities read projects written by experts and decided that it was time to “bleed” another “geopolitical enemy,” but because masses of people were rushing into Europe.
Russian cafe Datscha in Berlin. Source: TripAdvisor
What drives migration flows?

This happened in 2015 with refugees from Syria, whom the Turkish government allowed to reach EU borders. They swept away anything in their way and were stopped only at the beginning of 2016, when Erdogan took heed of European pleas, satisfied with their political concessions and having received European money.

This was the case in 2022 with Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. Europe accepted them immediately and without any analysis of their financial potential or professional skills.

In Germany alone, and only in the first year of the war, their number exceeded one million, while now the figure is 1.65 million. Meanwhile, only 33,000 Russians arrived in Germany in 2022. Without obstacles, more would have come, but certainly not millions.

Truly large-scale migrations to Western countries have never happened because of plans and programs. They happened and are happening due to ongoing turmoil or simply because masses of people are eager to go somewhere, like Pakistanis to the UK, Mexicans to the US and Algerians to France.
There is simply no such phenomenon right now as millions of Russians rushing out of Russia.
And recommending that the European authorities artificially organize it is a little naive. This suggests a misunderstanding of both European priorities and the logic informing their actions, and even attributes to them a stronger interest in the fate of the Russian middle class than middle-class Russians themselves, who for the most part do not plan to leave Russia.

It is simply impossible for the European authorities to turn Russians into some special category of refugees with privileges for entry and integration. Why not create special opportunities then, say, for Iranians? Or for Chinese? Would this not “bleed the geopolitical enemy?” Conditions cannot be eased just for the sake of exceptionally educated and adaptive citizens of one country.

Let’s look at it another way: try to imagine our authors’ plan being debated right now in some reputable European country. Take today’s France, with its immigration scandals during the election campaign. The issues on the agenda there are completely different.
Lacking a full understanding of the Europeans’ true priorities, our authors treat with excessive irony the entire set of sanctions against Russia, an integral part of which is precisely squeezing ordinary Russians in Europe. The authors’ desire to eliminate this is completely natural. But first we need to understand where the Europeans are coming from.

A flawed argument

Here’s what Dmitri Nekrasov, a coauthor of the report and the director of CASE, says:

What might be the ultimate goal of sanctions? The real one (to please a stupid voter) has nothing to do with the war against Putin. A possible one (and often included in explanations) is to consistently adhere to certain values. That is understandable and noble, but in many respects it directly contradicts the goal of fighting Putin.

For example, from the standpoint of values, sanctions against oligarchs are correct and inevitable. But from the standpoint of the fight against Putin, sanctions against oligarchs are the most important gift to him of any out there.

The official goal written down in all documents – ending the war in Ukraine – knowingly and obviously cannot be achieved through sanctions...

One specific example. Many respected, busy people have got together and seriously discuss how they could pull off stopping Russian oil exports. Stopping them completely... Russia accounts for 11% of world production and more than 15% of the market for international oil supplies. On the horizon of 10-20 years, there is objectively nothing to replace it. And if tomorrow Putin himself stops oil exports, you will have such an economic crisis that you will not know what hit you...

...More sanctions should not be introduced, but [the current ones] lifted. First, remove all restrictions on moving capital out of Russia. Second, not only do not hinder, but in every possible way stimulate emigration from Russia. Third, lift sanctions that, even while damaging the Russian economy, are objectively more expensive for the West...
Sure, you cannot argue with the fact that sanctions will not stop the war in Ukraine. But this does not mean that they are unbearable for the global economy.
Russian food store Beriozka in Berlin. Source: Wiki Commons
In 2018, sanctions against Iran reduced the country’s oil exports by two million barrels per day (5% of global supplies), and the world did not end – oil prices even fell.

Iran in fact has not reduced its militancy because of sanctions, but what we are considering is just the possibility of a radical oil embargo against a powerful energy-exporting state.

In 2020, Russia produced 17% of all gas produced in the world and accounted for 25% of all global gas exports, including 43% of gas imported into the EU. Yet in 2022, Putin “himself stopped exports” of gas to Europe.

The result: today, total Russian gas exports (piped and liquefied) have more than halved compared to before the war, Russian gas imports to Europe have decreased fourfold and the spot price of gas on the European market is now ten times lower than at the peak of the crisis two years ago. The Europeans have found someone to replace Russia.

It is not unreasonable to assume that a similar-scale halving of Russian oil and petroleum product exports (from the current 6-7 million barrels per day) would not collapse the world economy. Because here too there is someone to replace Russia. Yet the West is not fanatically trying to do this – not because it cannot, but because eliminating the trade in Russian oil is not its top priority.

Europe’s priorities
As its top priority, consciously or instinctively, Europe puts simply cutting itself off from Russia. Not depending on Russia for anything important, especially energy – otherwise Putin will blackmail it.
This is a completely rational goal, and in two and a half years it has more or less been achieved. Meanwhile, the accompanying discussions about strangling Russia’s military potential and punishing Putin’s billionaires should not be taken too literally. That does not drive anyone up the wall though.

The authors of the report, making a mistake typical of Russian intellectuals and Russian emigrants, greatly exaggerate the importance of Russia and Russians in European minds. But Europe would like to think less about our fatherland and get away from it. That is impossible geographically, so the European authorities are doing it by squeezing the new Russian diasporas across Europe.

I think this can be overcome, and precisely because emigrants themselves are mentally moving further and further from their old homeland. European Russians must learn to defend their rights and promote their interests on an equal footing with everyone else.
They should not claim special status. Nor should they dangle utopian plans in front of European leaders.
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