Eugene Rumer is Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 1977 he left the Soviet Union.
In most areas, the West has come together with remarkable speed and unity in times of crisis. It has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia for its barbaric attack on Ukraine. It is just as determined in supporting Kyiv, pouring arms, supplies and billions of dollars into the country’s fight against its aggressor and alleviating the suffering of millions of refugees and displaced persons.
But largely overlooked in this outburst of compassion and generosity is a group who have fled the murderous regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin: Russians who can no longer live off their government’s lies and have taken the fateful step of seizing their country leaving. They too need and deserve our support. Urgently.
The Russians are fleeing Putin’s regime are among the most creative, vibrant and independent members of their country’s society. Not everyone can have the remarkable courage of Alexei Navalny – the corruption fighter and Putin critic sentenced to another trumped-up lengthy prison sentence – but many support him, have taken part in protests and now feel at risk of being persecuted by a regime that is implementing ever more brutal measures to repress civic and political activity.
The Russian president’s tirades about the country’s internal enemies, traitor“fifth columnist‘ and the need for society clean himself means that refugees from his regime may not be able to return to their homeland for years, possibly decades. They need to make a new life for themselves wherever they are, and the West should welcome them.
During the Cold War, refugees from behind the Iron Curtain were welcome in the West. They received financial aid, support in relocating to their new home countries, and residence and work permits. When they found new homes in their adopted countries, they gave them something in return. Just think of the great ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky or the Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
There are few reliable statistics on the number of Russians who have left their country in recent weeks. Various estimates put the number on 30,000 in Georgia, 14,000 in Turkey, tens of thousands more in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Armenia. The actual numbers are probably be much higher. These countries are already dealing with the immediate aftermath of the war in Ukraine – with higher food and energy prices – and have few, if any, resources to help refugees from Russia.
However, Europe has long been a haven for dissidents fleeing Russia and escaping persecution by tsars, communists and Putin’s rulers. But as the Russian leader’s tactical battalion groups rolled into Ukraine and artillery shells exploded in Kharkiv, Kyiv and Mariupol, Russia’s ties with Europe were severed.
Most airlines have now canceled flights to and from Russia. The ones who can leaving leaving the country for the few destinations still open to them – Turkey, Israel, several capitals of former Soviet states – only what fits in a suitcase. Many are molested by Russian border guards, and some are unable to get a plane or train ticket out of the country crossing the border foot where they can.
These exiles must find new homes and new ways to support themselves. But the currency controls imposed by the Russian government have barred them from accessing their savings and other sources of support. And now that the Russian banking system has been largely shut down by Western sanctions, their credit cards, issued by banks in Russia, not work any more abroad.
Previously Senior US Officer have spoken eloquently about the have to distinguish between Putin’s regime and the Russians themselves. But since anti-Russian sentiment is high in many countries, and some Russian exiles are proscribed simply because they speak Russian, it is particularly important for Western leaders to continue to emphasize that they do not view Putin’s war as “The Russian People’s War.”
By threatening persecution for Russia’s best and brightest, Putin is closing the door on a future at home. In addition to taking in Ukrainian refugees, allies on both sides of the Atlantic should open their doors to those fleeing Putin and help them resettle. What better way to show our understanding and support for those who refuse to live by Putin’s lies than to welcome them?
https://www.politico.eu/article/russians-fleeing-putin-need-our-help/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Russians Fleeing Putin Need Our Help – POLITICO