Few Russians Travel Abroad and Ruble’s Decline is Cutting Their Number Still Further

May 1, 2014
Illustration by Sergei Yelkin

Staunton, May 1 – Fewer than one Russian in five has been beyond the borders of what was the Soviet Union in the last five years, and only one in 16 currently travels abroad on a regular basis. But the declining value of the ruble as a result of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Western sanctions is reducing still further the number going or planning to go anytime soon.

On the basis of a new survey, the Public Opinion Foundation found that “48 percent of Russians had been in the countries of the near abroad,” with that figure rising to 55 percent among the older Soviet-era generations and falling to 32 percent among younger ones.

Only 19 percent of all Russians have traveled to countries beyond the borders of what was the Soviet Union, with most of the ones who have coming from Moscow, those with higher educations and relatively higher incomes, the poll found. The primary destinations in the “near abroad” have been Ukraine and Belarus; in the “far abroad,” Turkey, Egypt and Germany.

And only six percent of all Russians regularly travel to other countries on a regular basis for business or vacations, according to another recent survey with the remaining 13 percent having visited abroad perhaps only once or at most only a few times.

Russian commentators suggest that this means that many in the Russian Federation do not have the direct experience with foreign countries that would allow them to form their own views, independent of the Moscow media, about what the people and conditions in these countries are like.

That opens the possibility, they suggest, that the government can use this ignorance to present its own version of what the West is like and what its governments are up to. While that is possible, these commentators say, it is not clear whether this will be easy for the regime to do given public skepticism about many claims in the media.

But one thing all Russian sources agree on is that the falling value of the Russian ruble, the product of capital flight and Western sanctions in response to the Ukrainian crisis, is “forcing thousands of Russians” to cancel plans for foreign travel and is likely to lead even more to do that in the coming months.

Foreign travel by Russians increased by about 20 percent between 2012 and 2013 as the economy stabilized, tour operators say, but sales of tickets for foreign tours for the May holidays are down this year by ten percent from last.

Some Russians are staying home while others are choosing to go to resorts within Russia in the North Caucasus and elsewhere. And the Communist Party, along with the Russian government, is urging Russians to travel to Crimea, a destination that Putin’s Anschluss has transformed from “abroad” to “domestic”.

But according to some tour operators, many Russians are reluctant to go there despite Moscow’s push and offer of special fares and tax incentives. There is too much uncertainty about what is going on, and, in the words of some, the hotels available are not as good as Russians going on vacation want.