Russian exodus puts nation's BRIC status in jeopardy

Stuck in Putin politics, Russians are leaving the country to seek opportunity elsewhere. Or are they? A BRIC nation battles economic turmoil.

It's safe to say that an emerging economy can't afford to lose its workers to competing nations.

But that's exactly what's happening in Russia, according to a spate of recent news reports.

Most recently, a Los Angeles Times report notes that a significant emigration trend is being observed in the massive country that straddles Europe and Asia, spurred by the lack of political upheaval in Moscow as prime minister Vladimir Putin angles to reclaim the title of president, which he held from 2000 to 2008.

How big is the trend? Sergei Loiko reports:

Roughly 1.25 million Russians have left the country in the last 10 years, Sergei Stepashin, head of the national Audit Chamber, told the radio station Echo of Moscow. The chamber tracks migration through tax revenues.

He said the exodus is so large, it's comparable in numbers to the outrush in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution.

"About as many left the country after 1917," he said.

They don't leave like their predecessors of the Soviet 1970s and '80s, with no intention to return. They don't sell their apartments, dachas and cars. They simply lock the door, go to the airport and quietly leave.

But it's not all politics. Rising inflation and a wheel-spinning GDP have the country on its heels, and citizens -- from laborers to researchers -- are looking for more promising opportunities abroad.

The problem? Large-scale emigration is, in essence, an economical dismantling. With more than 100,000 people departing each year, and a birth rate outpaced by its death rate, Russia is looking at a reduction in size.

But the nations these emigrants are moving to aren't exactly prosperous, either. (The report didn't say where the emigrants were going, but nearly every nation is in the grips of economic turmoil.)

Radio Free Europe post by Brian Whitmore calls it Russia's "brain drain." The New York Times says it's "time to shove off." The Economist echoes the sentiment.

Is Russia in trouble? Mark Adomanis writes at Forbes that the whole story is a bunch of hooey, and that Russia's immigration (mostly from Central Asian nations) is outpacing emigration. He also argues that Russians' sentiment to leave is no greater than the citizens' of any other nation in this time of economic distress.

The recent Levada poll shows that Russians' desire to emigrate is utterly unexceptional. Indeed, apart from South Korea, Great Britain and Germany, there is at least one other well-managed liberal democracy whose citizens are much more eager to leave the country than the despondent citizens of Putin’s stagnating autocracy...Chile.

Whatever the reality, few can argue that the Kremlin is sufficiently courting its thought leaders. With so many foreign companies interested in Russia, though, does it need to?

Photo: Moscow metro. (Jason Rogers/Flickr)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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