otorbaev12_ Davit KachkachishviliAnadolu Agency via Getty Images_russians entering georgia Davit Kachkachishvili/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Central Asia’s Bidding War for Russian Emigrants

Many of the 700,000 Russians who have fled Vladimir Putin’s “partial mobilization” have relocated to former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. These countries, long dismissed by Russians as reservoirs of cheap labor, now see an opportunity to acquire the skilled knowledge workers their economies badly need.

BISHKEK – Bishkek’s residents have been confronted with an unusual sight these past few weeks: the streets of Kyrgyzstan’s capital teeming with tens of thousands of educated men with European features: Russian citizens fleeing President Vladimir Putin’s “partial mobilization” of 300,000 reservists to fight his war against Ukraine. The Kyrgyz people and government have welcomed them with open arms.

Many other Eurasian cities such as Tbilisi (Georgia), Baku (Azerbaijan), Yerevan (Armenia), and Almaty (Kazakhstan) have also seen an influx of Russian draft dodgers. While Russians have been relocating to Eastern Europe and Western Asia since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Kremlin’s first large-scale mobilization effort since World War II has turned what had been a steady trickle into a flood. The reason is simple: None of these former Soviet republics – in Russia, they are often referred to as the “near abroad” – require entry visas for Russian citizens. Long dismissed by Russians as mere reservoirs of cheap labor, these countries now see Russia’s brain drain as an opportunity to acquire the skilled knowledge workers they badly need.

Immediately after Putin announced the mobilization, queues began forming at checkpoints along all of Russia’s borders with former Soviet republics. At the Upper Lars checkpoint on the Russian-Georgian border, so many cars lined that people had to wait up to four days to cross.