Migration Patterns in the North Caucasus Paint Dismal Picture for Moscow

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 208

Patriarch Kirill and North Caucasian Republic leaders, November 2 (Source: https://osradio.ru)

The two wars in Chechnya and related political and economic instability were the primary reasons for the massive exodus of both Russian and non-ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus. Even though the flight of ethnic Russians from the region has been extensively explored in scientific (https://i-r-p.ru/page/stream-trends/index-5853.html) and more politicized articles, in reality the indigenous North Caucasian population was also leaving the region as well. The difference between the outward migration of North Caucasians and ethnic Russians is that the Russian authorities stimulate the outflow of the indigenous population, especially to the Russian regions where a workforce is lacking (https://kp.ru/daily/25667/828837/).

However, while ethnic Russians leave the North Caucasus with no intention to return, the North Caucasians often move to the Russian regions temporarily to earn a living because unemployment in their region is so high. The local population of the North Caucasus displays a great deal of attachment to their home region. For instance, even after decades of living in the central parts of Russia, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, the North Caucasians as a rule do not allow their dead to be buried outside the North Caucasus. The North Caucasians thereby emphasize their adherence to their home region and refuse to regard life in other Russian regions as anything more than a temporary stay. This temporariness affects their relations with the local Russian population, with the North Caucasians habitually rejecting or adopting the Russian way of life.

Lately, the authorities in the North Caucasus, apparently at the Kremlin’s suggestion, resumed talks about designing programs for the return of ethnic Russians to the region. To advance that goal, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a special program – the Strategy for Economic Development of the North Caucasus Federal District to 2025. The strategy envisages taking special measures “to prevent the outflow and facilitate the return of ethnic Russians” to the region, as well as providing assistance to unemployed North Caucasians to move to other Russian regions (www.strategy-center.ru/page.php?vrub=inf&vid=2422).

It is clear, however, that this program cannot be implemented under the current circumstances. Instability in the North Caucasus is spreading wider than ever before, which will dash any hopes for a return of ethnic Russians to the region. Curiously, the program admits that by 2025, an ethnic Russian population will survive only in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and North Ossetia. Thus, restoring the ethnic Russian population in the other three republics of the North Caucasus – Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan – is out of the question. It is unclear why Moscow still finances the federal program for repatriating Russians to these republics. The president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, eloquently described the results of this program recently in Ingushetia: “I ordered the head of the administration to find at least one [Russian] family that returned to the republic to talk to them,” he said. “There is no such a family.” Previously, Ingushetia’s government brusquely gave assurances that 3,000 Russians had applied to return to the republic (https://infox.ru/authority/state/2010/07/20/YEvkurov__programma_.phtml). The local bureaucracy, meanwhile, used up the funds that had been allotted for the Russian resettlement program.

In Chechnya, every isolated case of a Russian’s return is trumpeted as a large-scale success story. The propaganda underpinning of this statement is simple: the government is trying to use the return of ethnic Russians to the republic as evidence of the normalization of the situation in Chechnya (https://topwar.ru/5077-russkie-nachali-vozvraschatsya-v-chechnyu.html). The Chechen government claims that “[we] already [have] 2,500 Russians” is incorrect, since they are talking only about Chechnya’s Naur district, which had few Chechens in the Soviet period. It would be more correct to say “we only have 2,500 Russians” out of a total population of the district of 53,000, of whom 50,000 are Chechens.

In Dagestan, the number of ethnic Russians in the period between two censuses of 1989 and 2002 diminished by 27 percent, or 120,900 people (just 4.7 percent of the republic’s population). Nearly half of the Russian population that lives in Dagestan is comprised of aging pensioners. The government’s plans to return ethnic Russians to the republic in 2010-2011 are unlikely to reverse this trend (www.riadagestan.ru, April 8).

The Russian Orthodox Church actively intervened at the highest level in the campaign to support ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus. On November 2, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, received leaders of the North Caucasus republics and raised the issue of the exodus of ethnic Russians from the region (https://osradio.ru/religija/41371-svjatejjshijj-patriarkh-kirill-prinjal.html). The Orthodox clergy has a vested interest in retaining the Orthodoxy in the North Caucasus, because if the Russians leave, many parishes that are now functioning will be closed. Therefore, the Russian Orthodox Church is united with the government on this issue, given that the two can strengthen each other or both can lose out.

Russian national patriots disagree with this approach to the North Caucasus and state that the program for the return of ethnic Russians to the region will not solve the issue. They believe Russians will not be willing to return to the places they left in the 1990s (M.A., Pivnev, Svobodnaya Rossiya, 2010).

Those who promote the return of Russians who left the North Caucasus in the past 30 years do not want to believe that the Russian population is inescapably disappearing from the map of the North Caucasian. It is indeed increasingly more relevant for the Russian government to think about allowing the highlanders to cultivate and develop the nearby territories of Stavropol, Krasnodar, Kalmykia and Astrakhan. If the Kremlin somehow manages to keep these migration processes under control, there is a chance there will be no confrontation following the imminent inflow of the highlanders into those territories.