28.07.23 Review

Escape from War: New data puts the number of Russians who have left at more than 800,000 people

The precise number of Russians who have left the country following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine remains unknown — neither the Russian government, journalists, nor researchers possess this information. There is no government agency tasked with monitoring individuals leaving Russia in search of a new home. For instance, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) only keeps track of Russians who have officially applied for new citizenship (which amounted to only 50,000 in 2022), while the Federal Security Service (FSB) tracks the number of Russians crossing the Russian border. To gauge the magnitude of this recent wave of emigration, one must rely on data published by countries receiving these Russian emigrants. However, even these recipient nations do not provide a precise understanding of the extent of Russia's 'war-related' emigration due to the fluidity of migration processes. Re:Russia has studied the data available from recipient countries and has estimated that between 820,000 and 920,000 people have left Russia after February 24, 2022.

Over the course of the past year and a half of the war, ongoing discussions have centred around the number of people who have left Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. This outflow can be broadly categorised into three groups. First, there are those who left for political reasons, who were facing persecution due to their political and civic activities or statements. Others chose to leave to avoid the risk of persecution or to avoid being compelled to stay silent about their views on the war. Second, there are employees of international or foreign-affiliated companies with extensive business ties. The imposition of sanctions made their normal activities in the country increasingly complex, prompting some to seek alternative locations. And finally, the least politicised group includes those who fled the threat of conscription. However, obtaining a clear and precise picture of the scale of this exodus has been challenging.

Following numerous attempts by experts to ascertain the number of departures, a rough estimate of 500,000 to 1 million people was established. However, the basis for this estimate was shaky. At present, among all the available methods of estimation, relying on data from migration and registration services in major countries receiving Russian emigrants seems to be the most dependable approach.

Recently, the publication 'Verstka' discovered and analysed Eurostat data on the issuance of documents to Russians for temporary stays (lasting more than three months). According to the data from 2022, more than 94,000 Russian citizens obtained such documents in European Union countries. However, this data lacks information regarding Croatia, Lithuania, and Cyprus. Extrapolating based on data from previous years, the publication assumed that these three countries accounted for about 6% of residence permits. However, these three countries, especially Lithuania and Cyprus, held particular significance for relocation, making it highly likely that the number of Russians who settled there last year exceeded the typical figures. As a result, the final figure is probably somewhat higher.

However, even considering this possibility, a figure of 100,000 to 105,000 does not deviate significantly from the usual flow of Russians to Europe in recent years. In 2021, around 83,000 European residence permits were obtained by Russian citizens, and before the pandemic, the average number of Russians receiving such permits annually was slightly over 70,000. It was expected that the standard flow of residence permit recipients would sharply decrease in 2022 due to the disruption of various scientific and educational exchange programs. Considering this, the estimate for the 'war-related' migrant flow should be significantly higher, likely ranging from 30,000 to 35,000 people. It is more likely that the actual number is in excess of 50,000.

According to the official statistical agency of Turkey, in 2022, almost 100 thousand Russians (99,900) obtained residence permits in the country. In 2021, this document was received by 22,300 Russian citizens, and in the previous four years it was received by an average of 8,000 Russians. Thus, the "military" flow of Russians to Turkey most likely amounted to 90,000.

The main destinations for Russian emigrants were, understandably, visa-free countries, particularly former Soviet states, which offer easy entry regulation, a relatively low cost of living, and a prevalence of the Russian language. According to the chairman of the migration service committee of Kazakhstan's Ministry of Internal Affairs, as reported by 'Kommersant' in early 2023, around 150,000 Russians remained in Kazakhstan in 2022, with 36,000 receiving temporary registration. In Armenia, the Minister of Economy stated in an interview with 'Vedomosti' that approximately 108,000 to 110,000 Russian citizens relocated there in 2022. The number of Russians who moved to Georgia was considerably lower, with the Georgian National Statistics Service reporting that a total of 62,300 migrants arrived in Georgia from Russia in 2022.

In 2022, approximately 220,000 Russians travelled to Serbia, and as of May 15, 2023, 30,000 Russian citizens held Serbian residence permits, as reported by Serbian publication Republica, citing data from the local Ministry of Internal Affairs. In Serbia (as well as in Montenegro), there is a system called 'visa run,'which enables individuals to live in the countries without formal registration. This system allows people to exit the country at least once a month for a few hours, allowing them to stay without being officially counted as residents. As a result, the official registration data in these countries may not present a complete picture of the actual number of immigrants. According to other sources (also citing the country's Ministry of Internal Affairs), the number of Russians currently residing in Serbia stands at 150,000 people. In neighbouring Montenegro, over 113,000 people with Russian citizenship obtained registration in 2022. However, since the rules require every foreigner to register, this number includes tourists as well. During the non-tourist season from January to March 2023, Russians received 64,000 registrations for stays up to 90 days in Montenegro. When estimating the magnitude of Russian emigration, Montenegro heavily relies on this 'anchor.' Moreover, the fact that over 21,000 people obtained temporary or permanent residence permits in Montenegro suggests that the actual figure might be even higher.

Data from Israel's Ministry of Internal Affairs indicates that, from February 24, 2022 to February 22, 2023, 50,900 expatriates arrived from Russia. During the first three months, the number was around 5900, but after the announcement of mobilisation in September it increased more than threefold to 19,500 arrivals per month.

According to data from the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority, the number of Russians repatriating to Israel from February 24, 2022 to February 22, 2023, reached 50,900 individuals. Moreover, the Israeli Ministry of Aliyah and Integration has reported that around 13,000 families (equivalent to 25-30,000 individuals) are currently awaiting status approval. In total, there have been approximately 75,000 Russians who have already undergone or are in the process of repatriation since the beginning of the war. However, this figure may not fully capture the actual flow of 'relocants' as many citizens may have obtained Israeli documents in previous years but continued to reside in Russia. For instance, in 2018 alone, 10,000 Russians obtained Israeli citizenship. As a consequence, the influx of 75,000 Russians to Israel is unquestionably a 'lower' estimate.

As of early 2023, the number of Russians who applied for asylum in the United States in 2022 was estimated to be over 30,000 individuals. Additionally, from October 2022 to January 2023, 22,000 Russians crossed the American border from Mexico. Similar to the situation in Israel, some Russian citizens in the United States may have already held American documentation, which suggests that the actual influx of arrivals is likely higher than reported.

The 'To Be Exact’ project offers further insights into the difference between incoming and outgoing Russians in 2022 for Argentina (9000), Mongolia (13,300), and Japan (2600). It also highlights the number of documents issued to Russian citizens for temporary residence in Canada (3600), Mexico (1000), and Uzbekistan (800), accounting for an additional 30,000 individuals. There are other destinations popular among Russian residents, including Bali, India, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and more.

By consolidating this data and considering reasonable assumptions, the estimate falls within the range of approximately 820,000 to 920,000 individuals. The greatest uncertainty lies in the data for Kazakhstan and Serbia, which are the two largest contributors. Although Russian authorities' claims that almost half of those who left have already returned to the country seem propagandistic and remain unverified, it appears highly likely that some who fled mobilisation have returned. Moreover, some of the emigrants continue to maintain dual residences, frequently travelling to and from Russia. Nevertheless, this data does not account for a portion of the outflux that has taken place in 2023.

Despite these uncertainties, it is essential to obtain a more accurate determination of the scale of the exodus that has taken place as a result of the war and the related tightening of the political regime and economic isolation. As observed, this outflow amounts to approximately 1% of Russia's labour force and is characterised by a notable concentration of individuals with higher income levels and significant social capital.

'Military' emigration from Russia, 2022-2023, thousand people

   Upper estimates Lower estimates 
Kazakhstan 150 150
Serbia 150 150
Armenia 110 110
Montenegro 85 65
Turkey 100 90
EU 100 55
Georgia 62 62
Israel 85 75
USA 40 30
Other countries 30 30
Total 922 817