Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Window on Europe: Moscow Largely Powerless to Redirect Migration in Russia, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 2 – In the face of underlying economic and demographic trends, the central Russian government has almost no chance to redirect migration within the Russian Federation away from the major cities and toward the northern and eastern portions of the country, according to a new study by a leading Moscow demographer.

            Nikita Mkrtchyan of the Moscow Institute of Demography of the Higher School of Economics has prepared a major study of migration trends in the Russian Federation (  His key findings were presented on Monday by (

            According to Mkrtchyan, the efforts of the Russian government to get Russians to stop moving to Moscow and to move instead to the under-populated Far East or the unstable North Caucasus have ended as “a complete failure” despite massive expenditures of government money and active propaganda campaigns.

            The reason for that, he says, is that migrants almost always seek to move to regions with a higher standard of living and better opportunities for future advancement, something that one-time aid packages from the central government or bans on immigration by cities and regions can do little or nothing about.

            Since 2000, the demographer says, about two million Russians have moved from one region to another or from one place of residence within a region to another every year.  But what is striking, he adds, is that many of these moves are temporary rather than permanent, with from six to 30 percent of households in small cities including a worker who has left for a season and then returned home.

            Over the same period, Mkrtchyan says, the so-called “Western drift” of migration – the movement of populations from the east to the center, the Volga region and the south of the European portion of the country – that began 50 years ago has continued, sometimes increasing and sometimes declining but always in the same direction.

            As compared to the rates in the 1990s, however, the size of these flows has declined somewhat, not so much because people in the east and north are not interested in moving but because there are fewer of them left. Consequently, the migration potential of most of these areas – and there are a few exception such as Altay Kray – has been “exhausted.”

            Put most starkly, this means that “all the Siberians have already left for Moscow and St. Petersburg, and now people of Nizhny Novgorod and the Chuvash are coming in their place.” At the same time, the northern regions of the country are losing population, albeit their losses have now stabilized at about 40-50,000 a year.

            As for the North Caucasus, the outflow of population continues, with most ethnic Russians and many members of other non-titular nationalities having left and many of the members of titular ones as well. “Apparently, the outflow of the male population from the mountainous regions of Daghestan in the 2000s has been comparable to that from the kishlaks of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.”

            Russia’s urbanization has continued as well, Mkrtchyan says, with villagers moving to small cities and residents of the latter moving to Moscow and St. Petersburg.  That pattern was broken in 1992-1992 but has been restored, albeit at a somewhat lower rate than in the last decades of Soviet power.

            Between 2001 and 2010, restrictions on immigration from abroad meant that the role of internal migration increased and now represents 45 percent of migration. Much of that is within particular regions (70 percent) and only a much smaller part is between regions (30 percent), Mkrtchyan adds.

            Because migrants tend to be younger than the population at large, they are contributing to an increase in average age in the places they leave and a decrease in that measure in the places to which they go, thus placing changing burdens on the governments there.  That will be more marked among international migrants than among Russian ones in the coming decades.

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