Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 109

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has expressed concerns over the increasing exodus of ethnic Russians from Russia’s “internal” republics in the North Caucasus. The proportion of the ethnic Russian populations in these republics is steadily decreasing, Yeltsin told a meeting of republic leaders in the Kremlin last week. “Russians are leaving the North Caucasus almost as quickly as they are leaving the former USSR republics. This is a very alarming sign,” he said. (Itar-Tass, June 5)

Work by Timothy Heleniak of the World Bank and Robert Kaiser of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has indicated that ethnic Russians are indeed leaving some of the ethnically based republics and moving to Russia’s ethnically neutral krais and oblasts. This is part of a wider migration of ethnic Russians back to the Russian heartland. Much of the migration is from the inhospitable northern regions of the country, where the government can no longer afford to pay higher than average wages and subsidize prices in order to attract labor. (Timothy Heleniak, “Internal Migration in Russia during the Economic Transition,” Post-Soviet Geography and Economics, 38:2 (1997) 81-104; Robert Kaiser, “The Nationality Composition of Migration in Russia’s Republics,” paper presented at the Annual Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, New York, 24-27 April 1997.)

The exodus by ethnic Russians from the republics of the North Caucasus could well be significant. In the 1980s, a decade before the USSR broke up, Slav outmigration from the USSR’s Central Asian republics accelerated. Outmigration of Russians from the North Caucasus today may be a sign that the Russian population, unlike their leaders, are coming to terms with the idea of an eventual Russian withdrawal from the region.