2008 August 17 Sunday
Pay Russians To Leave Former Soviet States

As events in the Caucasus demonstrate, having ethnic groups within your borders who have loyalties toward Moscow is a recipe for getting your country beat up by the Russian military. Okay, what to do about it? Modest proposal: US and European aid should go toward paying Russians to leave the former Soviet and former Russian Empire states. Ukranians worry they are next up for Russian aggression.

The sense of alarm may be greatest here in Ukraine. Since the Orange Revolution began in 2004, bringing the pro-Western Viktor A. Yushchenko to power after widespread protests, Ukraine has been a thorn in Moscow’s side, though perhaps not as sharp as the outspoken Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

“We’re next,” said Tanya Mydruk, 22, an office assistant who lives in Kiev, the capital. “Sooner or later our president is going to say or do something that goes too far, and then it will start.”

I think the Ukrainians ought to do less to aggravate the Russians while they try to get into NATO. This attempt to restrict the Russian Black Sea fleet seems like a bad idea.

Ukraine has done little to win Russia’s favor since the crisis in the Caucasus began. On Wednesday, Ukraine announced that it would restrict the movements of Russia’s Black Sea fleet into Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula. On Friday, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it was prepared to give Western countries access to its missile-warning systems.

17% of the people in Ukraine are Russians. So that's about 7.8 million people who could be offered financial incentives to move over the border into Russia. A lot of people. But NATO could offer money as a much cheaper way than weapons to make Ukraine a more secure place.

Yet despite fears of a Russian resurgence, Ukraine remains deeply tied to Russia by culture and history. Its ethnic Russian minority, largely in the south and east of the country, is roughly 17 percent of a total population of 46 million.

According to one estimate about 45,000 South Ossetians were in South Ossetia when the Georgian military tried to reestablish control over South Ossetia. As recently as the 1979 census only 2% of the South Ossetian population were ethnic Russians while about two thirds were Ossetians. Those 45,000 South Ossetians (which Wikipedia claims had a per capita GDP of only $250 in 2002 - seems too low) could have been bought out and, with their Russian passports, they could have been paid to move into Russia. The Georgian government could have asked for Western aid to pay to buy out whole villages and gradually turn South Ossetia Georgian.

The Baltic states ought to consider buying out their Russian citizens. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania could avoid future trouble by paying Russians hefty sums of money to leave. Russia has massive open spaces. The influx would not create a strain since Russia is shrinking by 400,000 people per year.

Update: Writing in the Times of London Sally Baker thinks Russia sees its invasion as a way to keep Georgia out of NATO.

Russia is in a determined mood and is actively encouraging secessionists in South Ossetia and the other breakaway region of Abkhazia. It appears that Moscow has calculated that it can destabilise Georgia through such a showdown and there is precious little that the United States can do about it. Moscow’s military intervention will have the dual purpose, it reasons, of creating an unstable Georgia that therefore cannot join Nato and at the same time demonstrating to the West that it has gone too far.

Ukraine wants into NATO too. Will Russia look to destabilize Ukraine by encouraging terrorist attacks or large scale political protests by Russian ethnics in Ukraine?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 August 17 11:11 AM  Russia

upetrowska said at August 17, 2008 3:27 PM:

We paid the Russians to turn over Jews to Israel (and a few to the U.S).

Now we're going to pay the Russians to take back Russians.

Sure, uh huh, we're giving the money to those forcibly relocated ... as they walk back into a realm of corrupt apparatchniks and government owned banks.

It's money into the pockets of Putin's military machine, plain and simple.

JBS said at August 17, 2008 3:43 PM:


I think we should figure out how we can get low IQ legal immigrants to leave before we worry about moving ethnic Russians to Russia.

How about:

1) Pay legal immigrants at least $25,000 each to either give up their greencard or renounce citizenship and leave.

2) Reduce welfare to make it harder for underperforming legal immigrants to live in a high cost of living country.

3) Figure out how to encourage Mexico to improve her economy. The vast bulk of legal immigrants in the US are Mexicans. Legal Mexican immigrants display little interest in claiming US citizenship even when they are eligible. If Mexico's economy improved many would decide to go back.

John Costello said at August 17, 2008 3:45 PM:

I don't think the idea makes much sense. First of all, many if not most of the ethnic Russians living in the Near Abroad are there because they prefer to live in the west, not in Russia. During the communist period some of my friends from Moscow went to Tallin and Warsaw for vacations because they could imagine themselves free there (even though one was in a soviet republic and another in one of the "democratic countries.")Some of these people's ancestors moved their well before the Russian Revolution, and others's because of it. One author I translated had a Lithuanian surname, and was Russian, Lithuanian, German, and Scots in ancestry.

This continues. Yuri Yakovlev, a famous Russian actor (if he had lived in the west he would be as well known as Gary Cooper or Harrison Ford) lives in Lithuania by choice.

As far as Ukraine goes, the Russians and Ukrainians intermarry rather freely. Most of the people I know from Ukraine are "ethnic Russians" whose families have lived in the region for centuries.

razib said at August 17, 2008 3:49 PM:

Some of these people's ancestors moved their well before the Russian Revolution, and others's because of it.

these sorts of details are important. additionally, the ukraine wasn't colonized by the russians the same way the baltic was. the russian empire opened up much of the south and east of ukraine to slavic settlement during the 17th and 18th centuries, so the russians can make a good case they have as much right to crimea and eastern ukraine as the ukrainians. if the land should be given back to the "original" inhabitants the crimean tatars would have dibs.

Bob said at August 17, 2008 3:54 PM:

Maybe there's a reason so many Russians live outside of Russia -- life in Russia sucks. Better standard of living elsewhere.

Randall Parker said at August 17, 2008 4:27 PM:

I get the point that some have been living in the Near Abroad for centuries. But if they live in Russian-speaking communities then they are more like a colony. Whether to pay them to leave depends heavily on where their loyalties lie.

So does anyone have a good sense of the loyalties of Russian speakers in the Baltic states?

My guess is that the loyalties of most Russian-speaking Russians in Ukraine are not for Ukraine. Can anyone say?

TTT said at August 17, 2008 4:35 PM:


Your persistent suggestions that countries buy out undesirably citizens (whether Russians in Georgia, or Muslims in the US), is absurd and stupid. Why do you think it would work? Why has no country ever tried it?

Talk about emboldening a group my admitting you are afraid of them.

razib said at August 17, 2008 5:20 PM:

So does anyone have a good sense of the loyalties of Russian speakers in the Baltic states?

most of these people are very new colonists, within the last century. remember that even when the russian empire conquered the baltic in the 18th century from sweden and poland they left local elites, often german speaking, in charge. the important point is that different parts of the "near abroad" are very different cases. so the proposal you offer is very plausible for central asia and the baltic; russians are new colonists without deep local roots or loyalties, as evidenced by the out-migration from these areas after the fall of the soviet union.

the ukraine is totally different. the region we call 'the ukraine' was not under russian rule until 17th century and later. before that it was part of poland-lithuania, or, part of the tatar khanates. the ukrainian cossaks invited russian hegemony because the poles were oppressing them, and after the integration of the ukraine the russians were involved in the project of pushing the turks south in their drive to the black sea. the slavic peasants, ukrainian and russian speaking, came south as the land was pacificed by the *russian* empire and the turks were assimilated or expelled. vast swaths of south and east ukraine are in ukraine because of the way administrative borders were drawn during the czarist and soviet period (most explicitly crimea, where there aren't many native ukrainians, but rather tatars and russian settlers).

this is a long way of saying that belarus and ukraine are in a totally different category from the other states of the near abroad. the ethnic barriers between russians and these groups is very low, and their emergence as independent identities is a function of their submergence into the project of a russian state. modern belarussians and ukrainians might not feel this way, but russians certainly do. russians probably feel they have a right to but into the affairs of estonia or uzbekistan, but these regions are much more naturally colonial and foreign adventures. ukraine is not. the russians of eastern ukraine settled that land after the nomands were cleared out and invested their labor to add value to that land. IOW, i think it would be much more expensive per capita to lure ukrainian russians than estonian russians.

Randall Parker said at August 17, 2008 5:22 PM:


Spain is offering money to unemployed immigrants to get them to leave:

The Spanish government plans to offer unemployed immigrants advance payment of their benefits if they return to their countries of origin - and agree to stay there for at least three years.

The Spanish labour ministry said 100,000 immigrants from 19 countries would be eligible to receive the payout but it expects only between 10% and 20% to agree to this trade-off. The government is expected to approve the plan in September.

Over a year ago I posted on A plan by the French government to pay immigrants to leave.

Countries are already doing this.

Randall Parker said at August 17, 2008 5:33 PM:


It might be more sensible to redraw the borders between Ukraine and Russia to put most of the Russians in Russia. My guess is that Ukrainian nationalists will oppose a border shift though.

Look at Georgia. They were better off letting South Ossetia go. Instead they tried to hold on to too much and the result is they've gotten pounded.


As for emboldening groups: If you deny you have a problem out of fears of the effect of the admission that just makes the problem worse. America is deep in this sort of denial and so we just keep digging deeper. We ought to admit, for example, that Islam isn't going to be compatible with our culture and stop pretending we can assimilate Islam. More humility about what we can hope to accomplish is needed.

Randall Parker said at August 17, 2008 5:52 PM:


In fact, more immigrants want financial aid to leave Spain than a government program has available:

The number of immigrants seeking government aid to leave Spain has doubled in 2008 as unemployment soars following the collapse of a decade-long economic boom, official data show.

Spain's Socialist government received 2,100 requests up to July from immigrants who say they cannot afford to return home, compared with 1,184 during all of last year, and this year's funds for the subsidy scheme are exhausted.

These people have been in Spain for much shorter periods of time than Russians have been in the Baltic states for example. But the Russians in the Baltics who only speak Russian might welcome a financial incentive to leave.

razib said at August 17, 2008 6:59 PM:

It might be more sensible to redraw the borders between Ukraine and Russia to put most of the Russians in Russia. My guess is that Ukrainian nationalists will oppose a border shift though.

yes, i think letting eastern ukraine go would be smart. also crimea. both these are mostly russian regions. of course, you would lose natural resources and some strategic ports...but that only matters if you're thinking in a neo-mercantilist paradigm. i think the social and economic benefit to the ukraine in jettisoning the russian ethnic minority would more than make up for the loss of these regions. but peoples are not rationale actors. if the georgians won't let ossetia go (and they got ossetia in the same way that ukraine got crimea), no way ukraine will let the east go.

Randall Parker said at August 17, 2008 7:34 PM:


Yes, I share your pessimism about rational redrawing of political boundaries. So will Russia start playing games with Ukraine using Ukraine's Russian minority?

Fred Fry said at August 17, 2008 7:38 PM:

Another small problem is that most of the Russians in the Baltics do not have Russian passports with Russia at the time of the Soviet breakup disowning them and declaring them citizens of the countries their butts were sitting in. This has caused problems for the ethnic Russians who have not bothered to apply for citizenship in their resident countries either, instead getting 'Alien' passports. (I have also seen Soviet Union passports issued even after 2002!) This has been such a problem that the UN has been involved in finding rights for and a solution on how to deal with this group.

That said, many of the ethnic Russians arrested in Estonia last summer over the soldier statue protests did have Russian passports, because Russia sent them in to cause havoc and stir up the local Russian population....

Daniel said at August 17, 2008 8:22 PM:

Russians have been living in Ukraine for 100s of years. In fact it is not a stretch to state that Ukrainians are Russians, one of the several Russian peoples.

When the Soviet Union fell apart it was absurd to assume that the borders of the successor states should be those as determined by Soviet Bureaucrats of the preceding 70 years. There should have been negotiations based on demographic realities as to what areas belonged to each state. Crimea is Russian, yet it was "gifted" to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1950s. At that time this "gift" meant nothing because the internal borders of the various SSRs were meaningless. So because of this silly propaganda gesture of Khrushchev in the 1950s Russia should be deprived of an important historical and strategic territory, one that holds the only major sea port on its southern flank? I am actually surprised that the Russians haven't already gone in and seized Crimea by force. Crimea is Russian as Texas is American. I am not an expert, but no doubt there are other areas of Ukraine, Belorussian and other territories that are properly Russian. For instance, vast areas of Kazakhstan are Russian: demographically as well as historically. Why shouldn't these areas be brought into the Russian state?

Russians have a right to be offended and aggrieved by American meddling in these areas. This meddling by Bush has got to be the stupidest and most dangerous foreign policy gambit of our entire history. Absurd.

razib said at August 17, 2008 8:24 PM:

So will Russia start playing games with Ukraine using Ukraine's Russian minority?

i assume so. i don't think they can throw ukraine around as easily as georgia though. but who knows? russia has been trying to years to get ukraine to turn into a satellite like belarus.

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