While being interviewed by Kommersant.ru («Я стараюсь действовать политически максимально прозрачно» – «Politically, I am trying to be as transparent as possible») in April 2017, Alexei Navalny, answering the question, «The Chelyabinsk region is bordered by Kazakhstan. Do you still think it necessary to introduce a visa regime with Central Asia?», said the following.
«Yes, and this is an important point of my program. I am admitting that there is no big problem with Kazakhstan concerning migration – there is a fairly high standard of living in that country, and Kazakhs aren’t fleeing to Russia with a view to making 5 thousand roubles a month. But it’s a transit country. I do not see anything offensive about the visa regime. There isn’t anything frightening about it. There isn’t anything wrong with it. Between us and Europe, there is a visa regime, too. There is chaos in the migration policy for the time being, no one has a clear picture of the real quantity of migrants. It doesn’t have to be this way. And we need to advocate the idea of visa-free travel between Russia and Europe. It’s the right and logical thing to do, because Russia is a European country».
Yet Alexei Navalny wasn’t apparently quite right when he said that «there is no big problem with Kazakhstan concerning migration – there is a fairly high standard of living in that country, and Kazakhs aren’t fleeing to Russia with a view to making 5 thousand roubles a month». According to Regnum news agency («Украина, Казахстан и Узбекистан – основные страны-доноры мигрантов в РФ» – «Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the main donor countries of migrants in the Russian Federation»), the growth of migration in Russia is now being driven by newcomers from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Population growth in Russia resulting from migration amounted to 211.9 thousand people in 2017, which was the lowest indicator since 2010. From 1 January to 31 December 2017, 589.1 thousand people entered the Russian Federation, while 377.2 thousand people exited the country. The leading three countries on migration growth indicators are: Ukraine (47.7 thousand people), Kazakhstan (32.7 thousand people) and Uzbekistan (22.2 thousand people).
A study undertaken last year by the National Research University Higher School of Economics (one of the leading and largest universities in Russia) found that the average regular migrant worker, who arrived in the Russian Federation from Kazakhstan, earns 173 thousand tenge in terms of national currency, which is noticeably higher than the average Kazakhstani wage of 140 thousand tenge. Besides, our compatriots do not face any major difficulties in adapting to Russian society and culture. It is also not surprising that 65.5%, i.e. almost two thirds of migrants from Kazakhstan are thinking about staying in Russia forever.
As to question on the introduction of the visa regime between Kazakhstan and Russia, raised by Alexei Navalny, it’s not as simple as that. Our nation is a full member of the Russia-led five-member Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which also embraces Belorussia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. A single market for goods, services, capital, and labour is at the heart of the Eurasian integration process.
The introduction of the visa regime would affect these fundamental principles and might trigger negative reactions. Therefore, such an idea is unlikely to find widespread acceptance among Russian economic policy-makers and decision-makers. Russia’s pro-Western liberals, however, believe that their country must choose the path that leads towards a Europe-oriented future, on the basis of a spirit of reform and responsible leadership. The truth is that everyone has a different rationale.
For reference: According to Western media, Alexei Navalny is Russia’s main opposition leader. He became a prominent figure only after the December 2011 parliamentary elections, when protests erupted in Moscow in response to alleged voter fraud in favour of Putin’s United Russia party.
He later ran for Moscow mayor and received almost 30 percent of the vote. According to the press reports, many of his supporters are extremely anti-immigrant, particularly when it comes to newcomers from Caucasus and Central Asia.