Twenty Percent of Russians Would Leave Their Country if They Could, New Survey Suggests

The Kremlin on a winter morning. iStock

A record number of Russians want to leave their country, according to statistics that may alarm the Kremlin. The poll by Gallup showed that 20 percent of Russians said they would leave Russia if they could—a threefold increase from five years ago, and surpassing the previous record set in 2007, when 17 percent of Russians said they wanted to leave.

What may be especially concerning for Moscow's officials is that among respondents in the latest survey of 2,000 people between June and October 2018, an "unprecedented" 44 percent of them were between the ages of 15 and 29.

Back in 2014, there was a surge of patriotism due to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and the illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and only 7 percent of respondents said they wanted to leave.

The American pollster suggested that President Vladimir Putin "has had a strong effect on Russians' desire to emigrate": 12 percent of adults who approved of Putin's job performance would like to migrate, while 40 percent of those who did not approve of Putin would like to migrate.

"If these demographic losses turn Russia into the 'empty space' that President Vladimir Putin warned Russians about during his 2012 campaign, he may be at least partly to blame," the analysis said.

The United Nations warned of a demographic crisis in Russia, predicting it would lose 8 percent of its population by 2050, which could be even larger if there is widespread emigration.

In 2018, Russia's population decreased by 87,000 people to less than 147 million, with rising mortality rates in many regions explaining the slump, Radio Free Europe reported.

The newspaper Kommersant reported how the Kremlin was keen to make up the shortfall in numbers by attracting Russian speakers from Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the Caucasus. However, that poses a risk of fomenting ethnic tensions.

A population decline will hurt Russia's economy and its ability to project power abroad, according to an analysis by Stratfor published last month.

"A weakened economy and smaller population will also compromise Russia's ability to project military power and political influence… There is little doubt it will give Moscow great cause for concern in the long term," according to the geopolitical intelligence platform.