11.05.23 Review

Relocating to the Caucasus: the political profiles of the new Russian diasporas in Georgia and Armenia are markedly different

There are noticeable differences in the political profiles of Russians in Armenia and Georgia who left their home country after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to recent surveys. Those who fled to Armenia in the wake of the Russian invasion are characterised by greater political activism, a stronger commitment to liberal values, and a history of opposition rallies. These individuals also expressed a heightened sense of responsibility for Russia's political future. Conversely, the new Russian diaspora in Georgia is composed of older, more family-oriented individuals who exhibit less political fervour and who hold more conservative views. Surprisingly, approximately 15% of those who relocated to Georgia maintain views that align with the anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian sentiments which currently prevail in Russia. And, it is likely that once the personal threats associated with mobilisation dissipate, they may be inclined to return to their homeland. These results are paradoxical given the divergent socio-political contexts of Armenia and Georgia: Armenia maintains closer ties with Russia and is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), while there has been a rupture in the diplomatic relations between Tbilisi and Moscow for years. Nevertheless, the Georgian government's strategy of fostering ties with Putin and barring prominent Russian opposition activists and journalists from entry has successfully reduced political tensions within its borders.

In early May, the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) released a report titled ‘Russians in the South Caucasus: Political Attitudes and the War in Ukraine’, based on a survey of two groups of Russians in Armenia (801 people, Yerevan) and Georgia (853 people, Batumi, Tbilisi).

More than 80% of respondents relocated to Armenia and Georgia from Russian cities with a population of over 1 million. In Armenia, 54% of those surveyed had previously lived in Moscow, while in Georgia, the proportion of Muscovites among respondents was significantly lower, at 31%. The number of Russians from small settlements (with a population of less than 100,000) was negligible: 2.5% of those in Armenia and 1.4% of those in Georgia. The average age of Russians in both countries is similar (30-33 years old). However, in Armenia, 58% of all respondents are aged between 25 and 34, while in Georgia, the percentage of respondents in this age group is 47%. There is a significant disparity in the marital status of respondents in the two countries: 58% of respondents in Georgia reported being married, while in Armenia, this was true for less than 45%. One-third of respondents in Georgia have children, while in Armenia, only 15% do. In other words, the latest wave of emigration to Georgia is slightly older and more family-oriented.

In 2022, researchers identified two waves of mass migration from Russia. The first wave, which was observed in the first few weeks after the start of the war, was dominated by young urbanites with higher education. At that time, a majority headed to Yerevan. 21% of all ZOiS respondents in Armenia arrived in the country in March 2022. In contrast, only 4% of respondents in Georgia arrived in the first month after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. However, after the announcement of mobilisation in September, Russians began to move to Georgia in large numbers. 34% and 21% of those surveyed in Georgia arrived in Tbilisi and Batumi in September and October of last year, respectively. After the announcement of ‘partial mobilisation’ on September 21, 2022, a disproportionate number of men between the ages of 18 and 24, i.e. of conscription age, left Russia.

Two-thirds of respondents in both samples cited the political situation as the reason for leaving. In Armenia, this reason was most often noted by women who had extensive experience in political activism prior to leaving Russia. Among respondents who left after September 2022, more than half said they did so in response to the announcement of mobilisation (64% in Armenia compared to 46% in Georgia). Respondents in both samples who left before the announcement of mobilisation were more likely to say that they have left Russia for good. Departure from Russia after September 2022 was often spontaneous and less ‘politicised’. Therefore, there were noticeably more people in Georgia who believe that they have left Russia for less than a year than in Armenia (19% versus 10%). According to the ZOiS experts, more than 80% of those who believe that they will return within a year or less arrived in their host country in the second wave of migration.

However, the political profiles of the new Russian diasporas in Georgia and Armenia differ significantly. To begin with, 93% of respondents in Armenia believe that same-sex relationships are normal, while in Georgia this figure is 64%. Two-thirds of respondents in Armenia had participated in various political and social activities before leaving Russia: 15% participated in protest actions, 18% were volunteers, 52% made donations to NGOs, 24% helped Ukrainian refugees. 26% of respondents in Armenia said they had attended rallies in support of Ukraine before they left Russia (these were mostly young women with high levels of education who lived in Moscow or St. Petersburg prior to emigration).

In Georgia, only 36% of respondents had participated in political and civic activities in the six months prior to their departure from Russia: only 14% participated in protest actions not related to the war in Ukraine, 6% were volunteers, 19% made donations to NGOs, and approximately 21% provided assistance to Ukrainian refugees. While they were still in Russia, only 11% participated in protests against the war in Ukraine. These were mostly young respondents from Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as those who had left before the announcement of mobilisation. Among respondents aged 18 to 24, 14% said they had participated in anti-war protests. The Georgia-based diaspora is less politicised than the Armenian one.

When asked about the future, 38% of respondents in Armenia and 37% in Georgia said they felt a personal responsibility for Russia's political future. But, at the same time, a proportion of those in Armenia (27%) and those in Georgia (29%) said that they used to feel a sense of responsibility, but not anymore. In response to the question ‘Do you think that Russians living abroad are obliged to participate in activities to influence the political situation in Russia?’ 50% of respondents in Armenia and only 40% in Georgia answered positively. In Armenia, 76% blame the Russian authorities and Russian citizens for the war, less than 1% blame Ukraine, and 3% blame the West. In Georgia, These numbers differ in Georgie, where 67% blame Russia, 5% blame Ukraine, and 11% blame the West. 66% of those surveyed in Armenia had a positive assessment of Zelensky's activities, while this figure stood at just 46% in Georgia.In other words, approximately 15-20% of those who moved to Georgia (apparently in response to mobilisation) hold views that are not very different from the prevailing discourse in Russia. This situation appears somewhat paradoxical, given the different socio-political context of these countries. Armenia has closer ties to Russia and is a member of the CSTO, while diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia have been severed for a number of years. However, Tbilisi, which now appears to be improving its relations with Moscow, has long made it clear that it does not want to see well-known Russian political activists and opposition journalists in its territory. And, to some extent, it has succeeded: the recent wave of Russian emigration there appears to be less politicised, more family-oriented and pragmatic, that is, they appear to be ready to return to Russia if the threat of mobilisation decreases.

In your opinion, who is primarily responsible for the conflict in Ukraine? % of respondents