Jul 21st 2022

A Diaspora Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

by Kent Harrington

 

Kent Harrington, a former senior CIA analyst, served as National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, Chief of Station in Asia, and the CIA’s Director of Public Affairs. 

 

ATLANTA – There have been diasporas ever since the Old Testament, and, leaving aside their tragic nature, no two mass exoduses have been alike. In the twentieth century, the world witnessed Jews escaping from pogroms, the Bolshevik revolution, and then Hitler; African-Americans migrating en masse out of the Jim Crow South; and Vietnamese fleeing a war-torn country. In this century, Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans have fled failed liberations and brutal sectarian wars; Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans have been walking away from poverty and violence; and, now, millions of newly arrived Ukrainians in Europe and elsewhere are wondering when or even if they will ever go home.

For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year.

Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking. Compared to the first quarter of 2021, Russian arrivals in Georgia and Tajikistan increased fivefold, and they grew fourfold in Estonia, threefold in Armenia and Uzbekistan, and twofold in Kazakhstan. Moreover, Latvia and Lithuania together took in some 74,000 Russians, and popular tourist spots like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey welcomed just under a million. Nearly 750,000 people crossed into the Georgian region of Abkhazia, one of Putin’s vassal territories.

While some of these traveling Russians doubtless returned home, the total number of departures in the first quarter is remarkable. It represents nearly 2% of the country’s population, and that doesn’t even count the Russians who have left for Europe or other parts of the world.  

The FSB isn’t tracking these departures just to pass the time. From the October Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian diasporas were flies in the ointment of the worker’s paradise. While Russians had already started to flee in the wake of the failed 1905 revolution, these numbers surged when the Bolsheviks took power in 1917 and during the subsequent civil war. “Little Moscows” cropped up across Europe.

This history was repeated in the 1990s, but with a twist. Not only did the collapse of the Soviet Union leave 30 million ethnic Russians outside Russia’s borders (primarily in the Baltics, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine), but several million more emigrated to Europe, Asia, and North America, producing the second major diaspora in the space of a hundred years.

Do such large expatriate communities really matter? That depends on your point of view. In the 1920s, exiled Russian monarchists, rightists, and assorted military veterans – the losers in the five-year-long civil war – continued to conspire against the Bolshevik regime. But they continued to embody all the divisiveness that had led to their earlier defeat. Likewise, in 2011, the German historian Karl Schlögel argued that today’s Russian exiles lack the political structures to organize, and thus have little potential to effect change in their home country.

But Schlögel also identified an important difference between the émigrés and refugees of the 1920s and Russia’s twenty-first-century expatriates: today’s diaspora includes the most dynamic and entrepreneurial elements of Russian society, from business managers and information-technology specialists to scientists and artists. Their flight abroad represents a major brain drain.  

Igor Zubov, Putin’s deputy interior minister, warned of this problem in June, when he asked the Russian parliament to allow more foreign IT workers to enter the country. In his testimony, he revealed that Russia was short some 170,000 IT workers, contradicting official claims that most of those who left had already returned home. The Russian Association for Electronic Communications has painted a similar picture. Industry insiders forecast that 10% of Russian IT workers may leave in 2022.

It’s not just techies. As in the 1920s, hundreds of Russian journalists, writers, actors, filmmakers, and artists have also fled abroad, often resuming the same work in their countries of refuge. Investors and entrepreneurs, too, are leaving. Henley & Partners, a British firm that brokers citizenship deals for wealthy clients seeking to change their nationality, reports that 15,000 millionaires are expected to leave Russia in 2022. Most will try to domicile in Malta, Mauritius, or Monaco, where inviting beaches and lax tax laws welcome immigrants who come with cash.

Whether skilled professionals and Cristal guzzlers are leaving because of their opposition to Putin or for personal economic reasons, what matters is that they are depriving Russia of critical talent and capital. That is why the Biden administration has proposed legislation to loosen visa requirements for Russian IT workers and scientists with advanced degrees. And other countries and companies are making similar efforts to harness the benefits of the new Russian diaspora.

But these efforts will yield mostly private economic and financial gains, while the political potential of the diaspora remains untapped. If Western countries want to support Ukraine and confront Russian aggression, they ought to be doing more to bring together Russia’s expatriate intellectual and financial capital, forming a real community abroad that can communicate with, and potentially influence, Russians back home.

A century ago, some 300,000 Russians – businessmen, writers, artists, and others – created Europe’s leading “little Moscow” in Berlin, and by the mid-1920s, the city had some 150 Russian political journals and 87 publishers. Some of these were Soviet enterprises, but most were not. As Schlögel notes, the Russian exiles were attracted not only by Weimar Germany’s freedom but also by its strategic location. It was a place where books, magazines, and political tracts could find their way into the new Soviet state.

In today’s wired world, this episode in the history of print may sound quaint. But that is only because we have exponentially more powerful tools with which to disseminate information. Ultimately, only Russians can shape their country’s fate. But the West has ample means at its disposal to help those who want change in their homeland.


Kent Harrington, a former senior CIA analyst, served as national intelligence officer for East Asia, chief of station in Asia, and the CIA’s director of public affairs. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2022.
www.project-syndicate.org 

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Feb 9th 2024
EXTRACT: "Despite the widespread belief that the global economy is headed for a soft landing, recent trends offer little cause for optimism."
Feb 9th 2024
EXTRACT: " Consider, for example, the ongoing revolution in robotics and automation, which will soon lead to the development of robots with human-like features that can learn and multitask the way we do. Or consider what AI will do for biotech, medicine, and ultimately human health and lifespans. No less intriguing are the developments in quantum computing, which will eventually merge with AI to produce advanced cryptography and cybersecurity applications."
Feb 9th 2024
EXTRACTS: "The implication is clear. If Hamas is toppled, and there is no legitimate Palestinian political authority capable of filling the vacuum it leaves behind, Israel will probably find itself in a new kind of hell." ----- "As long as the PLO fails to co-opt Hamas into the political process, it will be impossible to establish a legitimate Palestinian government in post-conflict Gaza, let alone achieve the dream of Palestinian statehood. This is bad news for both Israelis and Palestinians. But it serves Netanyahu and his coalition of extremists just fine."
Jan 28th 2024
EXTRACTS: "According to estimates by the United Nations, China’s working-age population peaked in 2015 and will decline by nearly 220 million by 2049. Basic economics tells us that maintaining steady GDP growth with fewer workers requires extracting more value-added from each one, meaning that productivity growth is vital. But with China now drawing more support from low-productivity state-owned enterprises, and with the higher-productivity private sector remaining under intense regulatory pressure, the prospects for an acceleration of productivity growth appear dim."
Jan 28th 2024
EXTRACT: "When Chamberlain negotiated the notorious Munich agreement with Hitler in September 1938, The Times did not oppose the transfer of the Sudetenland to Germany without Czech consent. Instead, Britain’s most prestigious establishment broadsheet declared that: “The volume of applause for Mr Chamberlain, which continues to grow throughout the globe, registers a popular judgement that neither politicians nor historians are likely to reverse.” "
Jan 4th 2024
EXTRACTS: "Another Trump presidency, however, represents the greatest threat to global stability, because the fate of liberal democracy would be entrusted to a leader who attacks its fundamental principles." ------"While European countries have relied too heavily on US security guarantees, America has been the greatest beneficiary of the post-war political and economic order. By persuading much of the world to embrace the principles of liberal democracy (at least rhetorically), the US expanded its global influence and established itself as the world’s “shining city on a hill.” Given China and Russia’s growing assertiveness, it is not an exaggeration to say that the rules-based international order might not survive a second Trump term."
Dec 28th 2023
EXTRACT: "For the most vulnerable countries, we must create conditions that enable them to finance their climate-change mitigation" ........ "The results are already there: in two years, following the initiative we took in Paris in the spring of 2021, we have released over $100 billion in special drawing rights (SDRs, the International Monetary Fund’s reserve asset) for vulnerable countries.By activating this “dormant asset,” we are extending 20-year loans at near-zero interest rates to finance climate action and pandemic preparedness in the poorest countries. We have begun to change debt rules to suspend payments for such countries, should a climate shock occur. And we have changed the mandate of multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, so that they take more risks and mobilize more private money."
Dec 27th 2023
EXTRACT: "....if AI causes truly catastrophic increases in inequality – say, if the top 1% were to receive all pretax income – there might be limits to what tax reforms could accomplish. Consider a country where the top 1% earns 20% of pretax income – roughly the current world average. If, owing to AI, this group eventually received all pretax income, it would need to be taxed at a rate of 80%, with the revenue redistributed as tax credits to the 99%, just to achieve today’s pretax income distribution; funding the government and achieving today’s post-tax income distribution would require an even higher rate. Given that such high rates could discourage work, we would likely have to settle for partial inequality insurance, analogous to having a deductible on a conventional insurance policy to reduce moral hazard."
Dec 21st 2023
EXTRACT: "Shocks are here to stay, and our task is not to predict the next one – although someone always does – but to sharpen our focus on resilience. Staying the course of politically mandated policies while minimizing the inevitable dislocations is easier said than done. But that is no excuse to fall for the myth of being victimized by the unprecedented."
Dec 21st 2023
EXTRACTS: "A new world is indeed emerging. It will be characterized not only by more interdependencies, but also by more insecurity, danger, and war. Stability in international relations will become a foreign concept from a bygone age – one that we did not fully appreciate until it was gone."
Dec 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "Yet one must never forget that Putin is first and foremost an intelligence officer whose dominant trait is suspicion."
Dec 2nd 2023
EXTRACTS: "In a recent commentary for the Financial Times, Martin Wolf trots out the specter of a 'public-debt disaster,' that recurrent staple of bond-market chatter. The essence of his argument is that since debt-to-GDP ratios are high, and eminent authorities are alarmed, 'fiscal crises' in the form of debt defaults or inflation “loom. And that means something must be done.' ----- "If, as Wolf fears, 'real interest rates might be permanently higher than they used to be,' the culprit is monetary policy, and the real risk is not rich-country public-debt defaults or inflation. It is recession, bankruptcies, and unemployment, along with inflation." ---- "Wolf surely knows that the proper remedy is for rich-country central banks to bring interest rates back down. Yet he doesn’t want to say it. He seems to be caught up, possibly against his better judgment, in bond vigilantes’ evergreen campaign against the remnants of the welfare state."
Nov 27th 2023
EXTRACT: "The first Russia, comprising those living in Russia’s two biggest cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, can pretend there is no war at all." ---- "Then there is the other Russia, the one you find in small towns and villages scattered across the country’s massive territory. Here, the Ukraine war is a source of patriotic pride,"
Nov 27th 2023
EXTRACTS: "I interviewed Wilders in 2005 " ---- "Frankly, I thought he was a bore, with no political future, and did not quote him in my book. Like most people, I was struck by his rather weird hairstyle. Why would a grown man and member of parliament wish to dye his fine head of dark hair platinum blond?" ----- "His maternal grandmother was partly Indonesian" ----- "Eurasians, or Indos as they were called, were never fully accepted by the Indonesians or their Dutch colonial masters. They were born as outsiders." ---- "Ultra-nationalists often emerge from the periphery – Napoleon from Corsica, Stalin from Georgia, Hitler from Austria." ---- "Henry Brookman founded the far-right Dutch Center Party to oppose immigration, especially Muslim immigration. Brookman, too, had a Eurasian background, as did another right-wing politician, Rita Verdonk, who founded the Proud of the Netherlands Party in 2007." ---- "A politician who might fruitfully be compared to Wilders is former British Home Secretary Suella Braverman. As a child of immigrants – her parents are double outsiders, first as Indians in Africa and then as African-Indians in Britain – her animus toward immigrants and refugees “invading” the United Kingdom may seem puzzling. But in her case, too, a longing to belong may play a part in her politics."
Nov 19th 2023
EXTRACT: "The good news is that the San Francisco summit was indeed an improvement on last year’s meeting. Above all, both sides took the preparations far more seriously this time. It wasn’t just the high-level diplomatic engagement that resumed in the summer, with visits to Beijing by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and climate envoy John Kerry. Equally important was identifying in advance the key issues on which the two leaders could cooperate and eventually agree."
Nov 11th 2023
EXTRACT: "It would be naive to hope that the Russian government or US diplomatic outreach would prevent nuclear war in the event of a serious threat to Putin’s political survival. The risk that Russia’s Ukraine misadventure could culminate in nuclear nihilism demands nothing less than a systemic review of America’s options."
Nov 11th 2023
EXTRACT: " Hamas’s barbaric massacre of at least 1,400 Israelis on October 7, and Israel’s subsequent military campaign in Gaza to eradicate the group, has introduced four geopolitical scenarios bearing on the global economy and markets. As is often the case with such shocks, optimism may prove misguided."
Nov 10th 2023
EXTRACT: "The last two years have been catastrophic for investors in US Treasury bonds. By one measure, 2022 was the worst year for such investors since 1788. Bond prices are poised to fall again in 2023, making this the first time in US history that they declined for three consecutive years. But now the “smart money” is jumping back in."
Nov 6th 2023
EXTRACTS: "China’s economic slowdown could lead the CPC to embrace a militant form of Chinese nationalism in an effort to maintain public loyalty. This would spell trouble for Taiwan, the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, and China itself in the long run. Given the threat posed by China’s assertiveness, it is no surprise that Japan is increasing its defense budget and that other countries have decided to follow America’s lead and explore ways to support Asia’s liberal democracies." .... "The difference between China’s and Japan’s economic trajectories raises the question: Can a corrupt Leninist regime outperform a free society? Whatever the answer, China is facing an uphill battle."
Nov 2nd 2023
EXTRACT: "Of course, Putin owes his authoritarian mandate to Russians themselves. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians – reeling from rapid, profound economic changes and the new culture of consumerist individualism – grew nostalgic for the 'strong' state. Their superpower status, historic breakthroughs in space, and grand victories on the battlefield were all long gone. Trading their new freedoms for the promise of renewed imperial glory seemed like a good deal." ----- "After Stalin, the only time the state engaged so openly in such violent repression was under Yuri Andropov, who headed the KGB in the 1970s before becoming General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1982 (he died in 1984). -- Putin, who regards Andropov as a personal hero, has reinstated the Andropov-era 'disciplinary check-ups' of cultural institutions." ------ "We are dealing with people who want 'full revenge for the fall of the Soviet empire.' The empire they want to build will include Andropov-style control over every aspect of Russian life, as well as a grander claim of being anointed by God. Like the Orwellian equation “2+2=5,” it is a story that you would have to be insane – or brutally compelled – to believe."