Russia's policy towards its compatriots living abroad

Tatyana Doroshko

The forecast for 2005 proved partly correct. On the one hand, protection of compatriots rights still receives noisy attention in Russian foreign policy. The issue was discussed with Brussels as well as other international organisations (e.g., PACE). On the other hand, when negotiating the signing of the border treaties with Estonia and Latvia, Russia did not link this issue with the situation of its compatriots in these countries. The meeting of Lavrov and Paet in Ljubljana that took place on 6 December 2005 indicated the diminishing importance of the policy towards compatriots in the bilateral economic co-operation between Estonia and Russia. In the whole, it can be noted that the interest to this issue is flagging in Russia too.

In bilateral relations with the states where its compatriots live, Russia stressed the problems of 'understanding and interpreting history'. 'Historical dimension' has become important not only in relations with the Baltics but also mentioned in the context of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia.

Expectedly, Russia's attention in 2005 focused on such issues as preservation and development of education with the Russian language of instruction in the CIS and Baltic states. To give an example, a majority of projects financed by Moscow city government in the last year dealt with the Russian language and culture. Discussion of the reform scheduled for 2007 was initiated by Russia in the meetings at all levels (the visit by the Estonian Minister of Education to Mari El, the meeting of Lavrov and Paet in Ljubljana etc.) Russia hitherto has not commented upon the variant of the 2007 reform proposed by the Estonian Minister of Education. However, these comments are likely to be given in the beginning of the next year already. Undoubtedly, Russia's stance will influence the position on this issue of the Russian minority in Estonia.

In practice, the list of target groups, projects and non-profit organisations which receive Russia's assistance has not changed for several years. Considering the practically unchanged amount of the budget financing, it can be assumed that this list of supported organisations and target groups will not change in 2006 as well. Growing attention will be given to youth projects and the development of media space in Russian. Several approaches to youth can be discerned. On the one hand, Russian-speaking youth is of interest for the Russian higher education market. Moreover, educating young people in Russia is a kind of 'soft' diplomacy. Saint Petersburg city government has started to grant scholarships for the compatriots studying in higher education institutions in St Petersburg. In the words of Ljudmila Shvetzova (Moscow city government), "Moscow and Russia as a whole are interested not only in preservation of a single cultural and educational space within the former USSR, but also in attracting the most promising young people to study in Russian universities with a hope that these people, in their countries, will later become a part of national elites while being friendly towards Russia." Considering the demographic situation in Russia, a rising interest to attracting Russian-speaking young people for studies in Russia with a view to integrate them into the Russian society (permanent residence) can be expected in a long-term perspective.

In the 2005 forecast, the start of the discussion about the migration and repatriation policy in Russia was noted. This discussion is not over yet. In the end of 2004, the draft law "On the repatriation of Russians and persons of other native nationalities present in Russia" was withdrawn from the State Duma. By the end of 2005, the Conception and the Programme of organisational, legal, administrative and socio-economic measures aimed at the stimulating of early voluntary resettlement to Russia of its compatriots living abroad were drafted. The Conception is based upon pragmatic propositions and attempts to solve Russia's socio-economic and demographic problems. The migration policy has been co-ordinated with the demographic policy as well as the policy of supporting compatriots. Besides a pragmatic approach, the motif of "the responsibility for the fate of Russians who instantly found themselves abroad" can be traced. Different branches of power have been arguing hotly about the methods and role of migration policy. Presently, a genuinely co-ordinated approach does not exist and this fact renders all conclusions about the success or failure of this policy premature (because both policy implementation mechanisms and objective data (the statistics) on migration flows are absent.)

Ordering of administrative and co-ordination systems as regards implementation of the policy towards compatriots, started in 2005, will continue in 2006. Roszarubezhtsentr will continue a 'struggle' for the opportunity to participate in the distribution of money intended for the support of compatriots. According to E.V.Mitrophanova, head of the centre, "Russian embassies in the CIS and Baltic states do not engage Roszarubezhtsentr into the process of money allocation for the support of compatriots abroad, notwithstanding the fact that this job may be completed by representatives of the centre alone", thus allowing the diplomats to concentrate on "more important tasks".

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is being accused of a passive attitude and unwillingness to tackle the problems of compatriots. Perhaps the "scissors effect", also mentioned in the previous forecast, is to blame. Russian embassies in the near abroad face contradictory tasks – to keep good relations with the host countries on the one hand and assert interests of their compatriots on the other. For Russia, major problematic regions are Turkmenistan (the problem of terminating the treaty "On the settlement of issues related to double citizenship"), Ukraine (closure of Russian schools, national awakening, orange revolution) and, to some extent, Kazakhstan.

The decision to allocate 500 million roubles in 2006 to support non-profit organisations in Russia and abroad was intriguing. It was interpreted in the context of 'the Russian democracy export'. The body responsible for funds allocation will be the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation. 'Support to democracy' is a symbolic step. In practice, 'lessons of the Russian democracy' are likely to be given to the CIS and Baltic states as well as Russian foundations and organisations.

In 2006, efforts to create and support various pro-Russia non-governmental organisations and parties, including those at the EU level, will continue into 2006. For example, the Russian Alliance of the European Union was established in Brussels in 2005. Politically, Moscow will increasingly associate itself with the stronger and internationally—especially in Europe—more important Latvian organisations and parties. Estonian parties will be less interesting to Russia (after their failure in the 2005 local elections).

The policy towards compatriots is becoming ever more pragmatic. Calls to consider the interests of Russia itself in this policy (e.g., migration politics, a solution of demographic problems) are becoming more frequent in discussions about the fate of Russian compatriots abroad. Russia has been broadening the number of countries which it keeps respective contacts with. These countries now include Israel, Central European and even Latin America states ('far abroad').