Ethnic Russians Flee North Caucasus Because They Do Not Feel Presence of Russian State

By Paul Goble
Ethnic Russians left the North Caucasus in massive numbers in the 1990s because of the collapse of their economic prospects, fear for their personal security, an increase in crime, and personal ties with family members elsewhere in the Russian Federation. But today, according to new research, most of those choosing to leave are doing so less because of any direct threats but rather for psychological reasons, including the sense that there is no firm presence in the region of Russian statehood or any institutions there that defend their interests. And consequently, there is little reason to expect that the outmigration of ethnic Russians from the region will not continue until this group, which has played a key role in cementing the North Caucasus to Russia, is no longer represented there.
In a survey of more than 15 recent studies on the issue of Russian flight from the Caucasus, Natalya Varivoda, a scholar at the Nalchik Institute for the Study of the Humanities, says that the number and share of Russians in the population of the North Caucasus republics grew throughout the Soviet period until the early 1960s, began to decline relatively after that, fell both absolutely and relatively during the 1990s at rates far higher than official Russian statistics show, and continue to fall now in both urban and rural areas in most republics of the region (, January 15).
Between the 1989 and 2002 censuses, she writes, 279,000 more ethnic Russians left the region than arrived. But those are “official figures.” Detailed analyses of the census returns show that the number of Russians leaving was “somewhat higher and formed on the order of 330,000–335,000.” That meant that the Russian exodus left Chechnya and Ingushetia mono-ethnic republics, and it meant that the Russian share in the populations of all the capitals in the region fell by more than a third. The situation in rural areas was more varied: virtually all ethnic Russians left the rural areas of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Few remained in Dagestan. But in Adygea and North Ossetia–Alania, the Russian numbers remained unchanged; and in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, the number of ethnic Russians, though not their share of the population, actually rose slightly.
The exact mix of factors leading ethnic Russians to leave varies from one republic to another as does their choice of where to go to. Most ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus have moved not to Moscow or other central Russian cities, as have many non-Russians from the region, but into those predominantly ethnic-Russian regions adjoining the North Caucasus—Stavropol kray, Krasnodar kray and Rostov oblast. Not surprisingly, such people bring their concerns and fears from the North Caucasus to these regions and contribute to the rise in inter-ethnic tensions there.

The sense ethnic Russians have that they are not wanted has little to do with the attitudes of the indigenous population, Varivoda says. Polls show that majorities of these nations view the Russians now less as occupiers than as people who can make a significant contribution to the economic development and stabilization of the region. Thus, they are concerned about the departure of the ethnic Russians and are especially worried when the rate of departures accelerates. But governments are another matter: Most republican governments are less interested in retaining the Russians and have adopted numerous policies, including declarations about the “state-forming” role of the titular nationalities, which seem to leave Russians out of the equation. And Moscow, in the views of the ethnic Russians remaining there, has failed to show the flag and prove convincingly that the North Caucasus will forever remain part of the Russian state.