Why Russians are emmigrating following the Russo-Ukraine War - Enzo Palmer
On February, 24th, 2022, Russia launched a full scale attack on Ukraine. A war that many military analysts expected to be over in just a couple months has proven to be a violent conflict and the largest war in Europe since WWII, and this month will mark one full year of fighting. This is an absolutely crucial moment in geopolitics. It tests the ability of Ukraine, NATO, and the European Union, but is also critical for Russia and Putin’s regime. Putin has shown little sign of backing down, and this war has really tested the capabilities of his propaganda machine and the level of government control within Russia. The war itself is still being referred to as a “special military operation” within Russia, despite the death toll being estimated to be between 40,000 and 60,000 Russian soldiers.
Over the last two decades, Russia has become increasingly authoritarian, with greater state control over media, especially television, and increasing crackdowns on protests. The last Russian news outlet that was beyond government control fell just before the war began in Ukraine, and protests have become illegal, with people being put into prison. Free speech and protests are two essential functions of democracy, necessary in order for people to be able to voice their opinions. Additionally, Putin’s government has begun to implement measures to control the internet, mandating that internet providers turn over individuals private information and banning VPNs from operating in Russia. Additionally, elections have begun to lose their sense of legitimacy, with opposition powers being barely considered, leading to questions over the fairness of the elections themselves.
This changing political climate is analogous to the story of the frog in the boiling pot. The heat rises slowly, almost imperceptibly, until by the time the frog notices anything is wrong, it is already too late. Well the heat has been rising in Russia for the last twenty years. But for many, the war in Ukraine and the military drafts that came with it have become too much. Many ordinary citizens within Russia have started to jump ship, and are leaving Russia for safer, freer places, perhaps indefinitely. Many of the people leaving are journalists, military aged men, queer people, and any other groups that are at risk by staying in Russia.
In a country of 143 million people, it is estimated that somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 have left since the start of the war. Many of these people are wealthier people within Russia, as not everyone has the means to leave. This adds to the blow that the Russian economy is taking due to the sanctions by the West. Wealthier Russians are leaving for Dubai, and many middle class citizens are going to Finland and other European countries, including Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and dozens of other countries nearby. Two Russians even fled to Alaska by boat, and are requesting Asylum from the USA.
This exodus of Russian citizens has large-scale repercussions for the world at large, and shows that there are people who are willing to oppose Putin’s regime. While looking at global events like this, it is important to not equate governments with the people who live under their rule. While a government usually has the support from its people, this support is never unanimous, and there will always be people with differing opinions within every country. The Russia-Ukrainian war has put stress on the system of globalized and interconnected trade that has been building for decades now. It is a horrendous event that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions, and affected millions, if not billions more with its large-scale ramifications such as decreased global grain supply and international sanctions.
In the coming months and years, it will be important to follow what happens with the war. Right now though, it is good to see opposition within Russia towards Putin’s regime, and to see where this will lead Russia in the future. The fact that there are over half a million people voting with their feet by leaving Russia is a positive sign. Putin is also getting older, and there are rumors that his health is declining. How all of this will affect the Russian government in the future is yet to be seen, but it is possible that there are changes on the horizon.