Anti-Immigrant Sentiments in Russia Lurk Behind Deep Social Issues

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 72

(Source: Yuri Strelets,

 Executive Summary:

  •  Anti-immigrant sentiments in Russia have led to a growth in inter-ethnic tensions and other hidden systemic problems, such as massive corruption concerning migration.
  • The conditions under which many migrants live, such as “rubber” apartments, have become a perfect breeding ground for radicalization and recruitment by terrorist organizations looking to cause chaos in Russia.
  •  These tendencies have increased widespread hostility against immigrants in Russia and the government, including anti-corruption demands.

Anti-immigrant attitudes in Russia, which have increased following the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack, continue to grow and are being fueled by high-ranking Russian officials (see EDM, February 14, March 26, 28). Further radicalization will create new problems for Russian officials, including a growth of inter-ethnic conflicts and the resulting instability, further deterioration of the economy, and decreased Russian influence in Central Asia (see EDM, April 30). The attempt to capitalize on the negative attitude toward labor migrants, however, has given birth to other unexpected consequences, such as increased terrorism, domestic unrest, and exploitation of migrants.

Xenophobia and nationalism have always been present in radical patriotic circles in Russia. The Kremlin finds it difficult to contain this ideology in the paradigm of “Russian internationalism” when every inhabitant of regions supporting Kremlin policies is recognized as “Russian” (, March 3, 2022). In the nationalistic circles the Kremlin relies on, Duma Deputy Chair Pyotr Tolstoy’s claims that all national diasporas and communities in Russia are “legalized Mafia structures” have become quite popular (, January 17). The involvement of “ultra-patriotic” circles in the problem of ethnic crime has revealed colossal corruption in migrant relations. Some go as far as stating that immigrants with criminal records have easily received Russian citizenship (, May 5,). Simultaneously, honest workers have had to wait years for such documentation.

Russian state media have discussed and recognized frequent violations of immigration laws. Journalists have reported on “rubber” (sometimes “elastic” in English) apartments—a term that describes “apartments in which up to thousands of people are registered but do not live or … dilapidated buildings that house large numbers of migrant workers in often unhygienic and overcrowded environments” (The Moscow Times, December 23, 2013). These operations often consist of illegally divided micro-shares of only a few square centimeters. “Fraudsters” sell these shares to unemployed and vulnerable citizens and migrants looking to register themselves and their relatives but do not always intend to reside in these apartments (, July 1, 2022). Tens of thousands of people have been registered in these “rubber” apartments for money as part of a larger business organizing illegal immigration that specializes in the preparation of counterfeit documents of every type, earning over 60 million rubles ($648,000) (Izvestiya, January 31, 2021;, January 24, 2022).

Some experts openly admitted that not only shady employers and public utility employees profit from corrupt migration practices but public officials as well (, October 25, 2023). Although about a decade ago the Kremlin appeared to be taking the initiative to combat these “rubber” apartments when faced with complaints about human rights violations, little substantive progress has been made (The Moscow Times, December 23, 2013). Additionally, these “rubber” apartments have become prime recruiting grounds for terrorist organizations targeting migrants (, March 27). The absence of intervention and protection for these people from the Russian government highlights that Moscow does not care about the exploitation of migrants, emphasizing the complicity of Kremlin officials when it comes to corrupt migrant policies.

The latest surge in anti-immigrant attitudes has become a hot topic for individual journalists and pro-government “experts,” including military analysts. These “experts” have attacked migrants, branding them as “new barbarians” and a threat to Russia’s national security (, April 25).

Military experts have highlighted another problem: the deportation of foreigners who took part in the war against Ukraine and risked being accused of crimes in their homelands for serving as mercenaries (see EDM, September 13, 2023). Similar instances cause particular indignation among the “military-patriotic” public as opposed to the “ease” with which, in their opinion, labor migrants obtain Russian citizenship. In some cases, migrants have faced deportation when refusing to fight in Ukraine (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 13, 2023)

The Kremlin is working hard to prevent war veterans from returning home, which has led to a wave of protests by the relatives of those still mobilized in Ukraine (see EDM, November 27, December 11, 2023, January 18). In some ways, such a policy was dictated by the Russian military’s needs of the front. Still, Moscow fears the return of people with combat experience who will defend their rights more actively, justifying their actions because they “defended their homeland” (see EDM, January 19). The Kremlin is loath to see foreign fighters in Russia who have experienced torture and killing and wish to remain in the country.

Against this backdrop, cases of the attempted deportation of “heroes of the special military operation” are becoming more frequent. For example, the attempted expulsion of a citizen of Uzbekistan who joined the Wagner Group and participated in the capture of Soledar and Bakhmut garnered widespread attention (see EDM, September 13;, December 10, 2023). Another case took place at the end of April when Serbian volunteer Aleksandar Jokic, who fought on the Russian side in Ukraine, was threatened with deportation. This Serb was denied Russian citizenship four times because, as the State Duma Committee on Information Policy states, he signed a contract with the Donetsk People’s Republic, not Russia. In his homeland, he is threatened with 25 years in prison due to “Mercenarism” (, April 24; RIA Novosti, April 28). When such cases become high profile, deportation is usually avoided through parliamentary intervention. “Military-patriotic” bloggers, however, underscore that these “heroes” are often sent back to their native countries.

The Russian authorities adhered to a similar policy regarding those who have participated in the war against Ukraine since 2014. This is applied both to the military and propagandists. For example, in December 2018, Ukrainian journalist Yelena Boyko was expelled from Russia. She had been active on Russian television in support of the separatists in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.” She was arrested by the Ukrainian Special Services (SBU) when she returned to Ukraine (, January 16, 2019). In 2018, a Russian court, and after it, the Federal Security Service (FSB), declared Ukrainian separatist Filip Venediktov a terrorist, agreeing with the SBU’s arguments. On this basis, he was denied temporary asylum (, February 6, 2019). Russian nationalists failed to raise a wave of popular indignation at the behavior of the authorities, while today such policies are fomenting discontent within more radical circles.

The attempt to play on anti-immigrant sentiments has ultimately backfired against the Kremlin and created new problems for the Russian government. These problems are already causing unrest throughout Russia, as seen in the Crocus City Hall attack and growing outward sentiments against non-ethnically Russian citizens. The longer the Kremlin avoids these issues, the more problems and unrest it will face from both the migrant community in Russia facing xenophobia and discrimination and ultra-nationalistic groups that view migrants as the root of all problems in Russia.