Staunton, December 8 – The decisions by high profile Russians to go into exile because of what is happening to their country under Vladimir Putin continue to attract media attention in Moscow and the West, but such coverage often has the effect of obscuring rather than highlighting the dimensions of this term.
Last week, for example, the media gave extensive coverage to the decision of Moscow gallery owner Marat Gelman’s decision to leave but devoted less attention to the size of the flow to places like Turkey and the likelihood that the 650,000 Russians with dual citizenship will make use of that.
And those trends help explain why some in the Russian Duma and commentariat are now calling for additional restrictions on foreign travel, recognizing that those who go abroad nominally for business or vacations, may take advantage of the opportunities that presents for remaining beyond the Kremlin’s reach.
According to a Muslim from the Middle Volga now living in Turkey, there are approximately a million Russians living in Turkey now. Most of them are not Muslims, but many are, and they often have chosen to go there because they can no longer tolerate the way in which Russian officials are treating Muslims at home.
According to Abud Amir, the overwhelming majority of Russians now living in Turkey are women who have chosen to marry Turks, middle class people who have visited Turkey on holiday and like what they saw, and others who find the balance between tradition and modernity in Turkey more comfortable than that on offer in Europe or in the Arab world.
Moreover, going to Turkey is easy, he continues. No visa — and especially no Shengen visa — is necessary.
Many people from Russia have found it easy to adapt and do not suffer from any nostalgia for their native country. Among Muslims, some would like to go back if conditions improve, he says, but at present, they feel threatened by slogans like “Russia for the Russians” and “Moscow for the Muscovites.” Such ideas are “fatal for Russia,” he says.
When asked whether it is correct to say that “those who can are leaving while those who cannot are remaining,” Abud Amir says that he would put it another way: Those who “cannot live in Russia are leaving,” while those who can still tolerate conditions there are the ones who remain whether they can leave or not.
The number thinking about leaving is certainly large if polls are to be believed, and they are disproportionately concentrated among the most educated and well-off members of Russian society, people that no country interested in modernization can easily afford to lose. Their loss is thus an indictment of the regime.
Such people, of course, are more likely than others to have dual citizenship, and the announcement last week by the Federal Migration Service that at least 650,000 Russians have a second passport means that if they can get out of Russia as some may want to do, they will have a place to go, making emigration more likely rather than less.