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EU urged to welcome skilled Russians to ‘bleed’ Putin regime

A Kremlin critic argued that welcoming skilled Russians and their financial resources could be a more effective blow against Putin than multiple rounds of Western sanctions that have so far failed to halt Russia's war machine.

PARIS (AFP) — A group of exiled Kremlin critics on Tuesday urged EU countries to do more to welcome Russians fleeing Vladimir Putin's regime, arguing that a shortage of skilled workers would deal a blow to the country's war-time economy.

According to some estimates, up to 1 million people have fled Russia since Putin invaded Ukraine in 2022 but some of them have begun returning, discouraged by the scarcity of available jobs and difficulties getting visas and long-term residence permits, in countries like Turkey but also in the European Union.

"One less engineer is one less missile flying in the direction of Ukraine," Russian opposition politician and former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov said in Paris.

Speaking at the French Institute of International Relations, Gudkov unveiled a study of the Russian diaspora in several EU member states, one of the first attempts to study the Ukraine war-triggered exodus.

Conducted by researchers associated with the University of Nicosia on behalf of a new think tank co-established by Gudkov and the economist Vladislav Inozemtsev, the study is based on a survey of over 3,200 Russians living in France, Germany, Poland and Cyprus.

Nearly 80% of respondents left Russia after 2014, the year Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Of them, 44% fled after the full-scale invasion.

As part of policy recommendations, the study called for a broad program of "economic migration" from Russia, adding that most Russians who have fled the country were well-educated "Russian Europeans" supporting Western values.

"The strategy to undermine the Putin regime should include orchestrated 'bleeding': stimulating the outflow of qualified specialists and money from Russia unrelated to the war," the study said.

Authorities in Moscow have acknowledged that labor shortages have become a serious problem, threatening economic growth.

Inozemtsev said more should be done, arguing that welcoming skilled Russians and their financial resources could be a more effective blow against the Kremlin than multiple rounds of Western sanctions that have so far failed to halt Russia's war machine.

"Even we have been surprised by the qualifications of those who have left," Inozemtsev said.

Citing figures from 2022, the study said the average monthly salary of Russian immigrants in Cyprus stood at more than 5,480 euros ($5,880), compared with the average monthly salary of 2,248 euros for native Cypriots. 

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‘Additional boost’

Mindful of the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe, the study argued that Russian exiles could integrate into European societies relatively easily and would not be a burden on social security systems.

Several hundred thousand Russians could also provide an "additional boost" to slow-growing European economies, the study said, adding that in the future the exiles could help promote "reconciliation between Europe and Russia."

EU nations, especially France and Germany, have welcomed anti-Kremlin Russians since the start of the invasion. But Gudkov said problems persisted and EU governments were concerned that new arrivals could pose a security risk.

Russian and Belarusian citizens, who were initially approved to serve as volunteers for the Olympic Games in Paris, were told by organizers in May that they had not passed security checks.

Ordinary Russians have also been affected by the fallout of sanctions.

Gudkov's father Gennady Gudkov, himself a prominent Kremlin critic now based in France, said he struggled to open a bank account despite receiving political asylum. 

Dmitry Gudkov said many Russian exiles were struggling and it was no surprise that some choose to go back to Russia.

"It is very hard to live like this," he said.

By ANNA SMOLCHENKO Agence France-Presse

Categories / International

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