The recent wave of Russian immigration seems depoliticized compared to other waves of immigration. Usually, smart and ambitious young men emigrate from Almaty to Moscow, and not the other way around. The rush of the best class of Russians to Samarkand is not only an insult to Vladimir Putin, but rather an indication of a reverse historical trend not seen since 1991.
Many remember the former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin with the famous phrase: “They voted with their feet.” This phrase referred to the soldiers who left the battle fronts under the Tsar after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917, but today it applies to the million Russian men who decided to flee their country since the end of September.
From the streets of Istanbul to the train stations in Tashkent, all the spaces between the Bosphorus and the Chinese border witnessed a massive influx of Russians of fighting age. Nikolai is a Muscovite in his thirties, and he fled to Uzbekistan in late September. does not want to reveal his full name. He says: “My 49-year-old uncle received a notice to join the army last week. He stayed in Russia, but he quickly went into hiding.”
Throughout the former Soviet spaces, Russians have begun to return en masse to the countries they left for thirty years. A historic reverse migration has begun to become visible today, as hundreds of thousands of men flee the depths of the former Russian Empire to neighboring countries.
Nikolai says: “The official media mentions that a million Russians fled the country, but the real number is at least double that. Half of those I know personally fled. When mobilization was announced, people’s reactions were very different, and some felt complete panic and went to the border of Without taking any food for the road, others haphazardly gathered all their belongings and fled before the situation worsened Others were more balanced, assessed the situation and a day or two waited to determine their destination and the means by which they reached it.
The situation throughout Russia suggests that 30 years of globalization have been in vain
It is not only people with meager resources who go to Central Asia. For example, Pyotr was a Muscovite who fled to Tashkent to live with his wife’s family. He played golf at Boston University, spoke English with a perfect American accent and worked for Coca-Cola for the last five years until the company withdrew from Russia, but he also decided to flee.
This mass migration carries a great paradox. In the first place, the brain drain is not supposed to go from the center to the periphery, knowing that on the surface this wave appears depoliticized compared to other waves of migration. In normal cases, smart and ambitious young men migrate from Almaty to Moscow, and not the other way around. The rush of the best class of Russians to Samarkand is not only an insult to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but also indicates a reverse historical trend that has not occurred since 1991. a similar wave of brain drain occurred in modern history, when intellectuals in central Europe fled capitals such as Vienna and Berlin and went to American universities in places such as Ithaca, New York and Chicago during the 1930s, and some were destroyed, such as e.g. the novelist Stefan Zweig, who decided to commit suicide in Petropolis, Brazil, and others who changed the course of Western culture, including philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Herbert Marcusi.
Newspapers and research organizations have rushed to highlight the decline of Russian influence in post-Soviet Central Asia since the beginning of 2022, but they have overlooked an essential point, since most human relations around language and money turn, and carry deserters from military service. these two factors in abundance, unlike what happened in the early twenties, when white Russians fleeing the revolution passed through Istanbul on their way to Paris, New York and California Europe and the Americas are no longer among the options which is available today. The Russians can now settle in Almaty and Tashkent longer than the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky did in Turkey or even Mexico.
“That’s funny,” said Nikolai. In the past few years, I dreamed of leaving Moscow and traveling somewhere. For example, I thought about Italy or Greece, and I never thought about Uzbekistan, but this option is not so bad. Sometimes life forces us to take a small trip.
Of the ten people with Nikolai, five left Russia alone in the past month. Most of his friends are spread between Thailand, Kazakhstan, Georgia and the United Arab Emirates. Nikolai says about the war: “Almost everyone I know is mad against it. Ukrainians are our brothers.” These feelings are not mutual, but he expressed his point of view in good faith.
Across Russia, the situation suggests that thirty years of globalization have gone unnoticed, and Nikolai adds: “We can’t use our cards everywhere, the whole country has become isolated, we’ve reverted to the Soviet era overnight,” and it is difficult for those who remain in Russia to deny This reality, a new and strange chapter has begun in the lives of those who have chosen to leave because they are fluent in the English language and work via the Internet.
In practice, they live in a curious former Soviet space. They speak Russian, but they eat KFC meals in Kyrgyzstan, communicate with their loved ones via Instagram, and use Telegram to talk to other exiles and the best plumber in the country to find This Americanized world seems richer and freer to the skilled or the educated, and to this lost generation of Russians, the age of globalization is not over, it has simply become amputated, as they represent its severed limbs and try to move forward in Tashkent , because their circumstances may not be the same They didn’t expect this last January, but it’s still better than dying in one of the trenches in Donetsk.
The Russians can now settle in Almaty and Tashkent for a longer period than the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky settled in Turkey.
At the economic level, they face an ambiguous situation, because they earn money in rupees online, but they pay rent in Uzbek amount, Georgian lari or Turkish lira, so they directly affect the level of inflation, and since February the influx of Russians have led to a rise in house prices by Big across Turkey, from Istanbul to every major town on the Mediterranean, and in Uzbekistan bookings have increased at a record rate since September. This is a new gold mine, says Ansar, who ‘ a cheap hostel in Samarkand.
On the plus side, the influx of Russian online workers is starting to open up new cultural options. In Istanbul, two Russians have become popular English-speaking comedians and perform for crowds of young Turks more than 3,000 miles away in Bishkek. Co-working spaces and classical concert halls are teeming with Russians. In Samarkand, the most popular modern cafes are back with Cyrillic menus, and as the remnants of Russia’s independent media now live in Latvia, Riga is reliving its golden age as a cosmopolitan city.
However, not everyone feels the same degree of optimism, says an American diplomat who declined to be identified: “They were supposed to stay in their country and fight the regime there, and if they opposed Putin instead of fleeing, this war would have ended by now.” Turkish nationalists make similar comments about the Syrians. Some say, “If they were real men, they would have stayed in their country and fought for their country.”
The importance of Russian immigration lies in this particular area, because this wave complicates the concepts we hold about the team that deserves death and the cause for which people die. The American diplomat adds: “There are 200,000 Russian speakers in Berlin. Why don’t we see them protesting in the streets one day? A century after Stalin and Trotsky’s supporters caused disturbances in the streets of the German capital, today’s Germans may like the quiet of their Russian neighbors. Online workers around the world may not unite, but at least they’re not fighting to the death.
The most important practical question in these circumstances is related to the way these Russians influence the political scene in Central Asia. On the one hand, capital cities such as Astana in Kazakhstan owe their stability to the Kremlin, which has helped them to a part to stop some of the biggest protests. in the country’s history in January, and on the other hand, who can refuse The arrival of large numbers of middle-class Russians, with all their culture, knowledge and cash? It is bizarre that manual laborers in Central Asia send remittances from Russia, while Russian internet workers compete with their families in Samarkand and Bishkek for houses, food and transport.
Central Asian countries seem to be lenient towards the Russians so far, as no taxes, censorship or mobilization apply to this new, opaque class of people.
The Russians on the other side of the former Soviet space may be at the mercy of larger powers, but there are many options available to them. “I will probably return to Moscow in a few weeks because conscription has stopped for now . and if I find the army knocking at my door, I will rush to the border again”, Lenin would have been proud of these examples!