Patrushev Says Immigrants Threaten Russia’s Territorial Integrity

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 66

(Source: Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union)

Executive Summary:

  • Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev says the influx of immigrants threatens Russia’s social and political stability and, if allowed to continue, could call the country’s territorial integrity into question.
  • Patrushev’s words are stoking xenophobic attitudes in Russia, powering a push for tighter controls on immigration and even leading to calls for the formation of a new right-wing party to mobilize anti-immigrant voters.
  • Such talk exposes the existing divide in the Kremlin between those who want to close off immigration and others who see migrant workers as essential because of Russia’s demographic decline.

At a meeting of security service officials in St. Petersburg on April 25, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the powerful Russian Security Council and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that illegal immigration now threatens “the ethno-confessional balance” of the Russian Federation. He added that it is already leading to the formation of ethnic ghettos in Russian cities as well as increases in crime and could soon threaten the territorial integrity and even survival of the country (Kommersant; RIA Novosti, April 25). His words represent the latest expansion of the alarmist talk he regularly engages in. (For discussions of past Patrushev interventions, see EDM, August 10, 2023, January 18). Duma deputies seeking to tighten the restrictions on migrants in general have already cited Patrushev’s words (, April 29). Additionally, these words even led one Russian commentator to suggest that Moscow needs to set up a new right-wing political party that, like the Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland and France’s Rassemblement National, would mobilize Russians fearful and angry about the influx of immigrants (Noviy Den’, April 27). All this brings out into the open a fundamental divide in the Kremlin between those who favor restricting immigration lest it threaten the “Russianness” of Russia and those who see migrant workers as Moscow’s only hope to cope with the country’s demographic decline.

Patrushev argued that the influx of migrants into Russia is already creating the conditions for terrorist and humanitarian threats and, thus, for the country’s disintegration and collapse. He called for the immediate adoption of a new system to oversee immigration to ensure that the enemies of Russia do not use migrants to undermine the country (The Moscow Times, April 26). The overheated environment in the Russian capital since the terrorist attack carried out by Tajiks on Crocus City Hall earlier this month have attracted more widespread attention to Patrushev’s words, similar to his remarks to “Argumenty i Fakty” a week earlier, especially in more nationalist outlets (Argumenty i Fakty, April 16, 25;; RT, April 16; Mediagruppa “Zvezda”, April 25; Tsargrad, April 27). More importantly, his arguments are being invoked by Duma deputies and others now seeking to enact much tighter restrictions on immigration (, April 27;, April 29).

Perhaps the most interesting but most speculative response to Patrushev’s hard-line attack on immigration has come from Sergey Starovoytov, a political scientist who heads the “Club of the Regions” portal (, April 27, reposted at Noviy Den’, April 27). He argues that popular anger about migrants is now so great that the situation threatens to grow out of control. To prevent that from happening, the political scientist urges Moscow to consider setting up a new political party capable of absorbing others who hold such views. According to Starovoytov, interest in such a party, one similar to other far-right parties in Europe, is shown “not only by sociology—the growth in negative attitudes toward migrants over the last year from 40 to 60 percent—but also by expressions of interest in communities defending the interests of indigenous citizens.” His argument builds on those of others who see that the current party system in Russia is in trouble (The Moscow Times; Riddle, April 19). 

Starovoytov says that, at present, no political parties in Russia are capable of mobilizing such Russians before the parliamentary elections in 2026. The ruling United Russia party, despite the hopes of many, “will not be able to absorb this right-of-center agenda.” It is focused solely on the center of the political spectrum and not on the increasingly important right wing. The same can be said of the other existing systemic parties. Consequently, he argues that leaving things as they currently stand could cost the Kremlin control, “especially with the return of veterans from the front of the special military operation” in Ukraine. To avoid that, Starovoytov urges Putin to consider forming a new party that would capture the rampant anti-immigrant attitudes and the sources of those attitudes that Patrushev has warned about.

While intriguing, this proposal is unlikely to go anywhere, at least in its pure form. This approach may solve one political problem, but it would trigger another by deepening a split in the Kremlin itself and bringing it further into the open. While many in the top elite circles of the Russian government agree with Patrushev, others do not. At least three reasons point to why many in the Kremlin would oppose the potential consequences of Patrushev’s ideas. First, there is the apparent danger that moves against immigrants could lead to attacks on Russia’s own ethnic and religious minorities—a development these groups are warning about and one that could pose an even greater threat to Russian stability and territorial integrity (Window on Eurasia, April 3;, April 27). Second, if Moscow were to adopt Patrushev’s hardline stance, it will further alienate not only migrants from Central Asia but also the national governments there undermining Moscow’s already declining influence in yet another part of the post-Soviet space (Window on Eurasia, April 6). Third—and by far the most important—restricting the influx of migrants would deal a serious blow to the Russian economy. In the short term, the use of migrant workers is the only way to compensate for growing worker shortages given Russia’s demographic decline, further exacerbated by the heavy manpower losses of Putin’s war against Ukraine (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 18). Those in the Russian leadership who understand that fact remain very influential. On the day Patrushev called for new restrictions, the Russian government was quietly boosting quotas for the entry of new immigrants (Parlamentskaya Gazeta, April 19). That position is likely to predominate even though officials advocating for more immigration are likely to argue that they, too, oppose “illegal” immigration. 

Patrushev’s rhetoric ensures that the debate about “illegals” in Russia is rapidly turning into a debate about immigration more generally. It also highlights the concept of “Russia for the Russians” and conspiracies in the regime to “replace” Russians with immigrants (Window on Eurasia, April 17). That will deepen the divide not only in Russian society but also in the Kremlin itself between those who focus on the “Russian world” and those who focus instead on the Russian economy. So far, Putin has straddled the two positions, but it is unclear how long either side will support him as he continues to ride these two very different horses.