Russia’s brain drain problem is not over

Do svidanya! Harry Engels/Getty Images

Prominent liberal economist and commentator Konstantin Sonin is leaving Russia for Chicago, a sign that Russia’s brain drain problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

Sonin, a professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics who is openly critical of the Kremlin’s economic policy, announced that he will be leaving the country in order to take up a professor position at the University of Chicago.

“Of course the move is linked with the political events of recent years. Up until 2014 I did not even think about looking for permanent work abroad,” he wrote in blog post.

He was reportedly pushed out of job at a top public Russian university earlier this year, according to the Moscow Times.

Several US-based professors and economists have tweeted their own opinions in response to Sonin’s news:

Sonin’s move, unfortunately, isn’t too surprising. Several professors, including Sergei Guriev, who have been critical of the Kremlin’s economic and political policies have left Russia in the last few years due to “political pressure and greater opportunities abroad,” according to the Moscow Times.

And this exodus of Russian academics is part of a larger demographic trend that’s hurting Russia right now: a serious brain drain.

Although emigration trended downward from 1997 to 2011, there was a sudden spike in Russians leaving the country around Vladimir Putin’s third (and controversial) term began in 2012.

In 2012, almost 123,000 people left, and in 2013 that number shot up to more than 186,000 got out. And then the biggest bombshell of all: over 203,000 Russians left in the second half of 2014 following the annexation of Crimea.


What’s particularly notable about this recent brain drain trend is the type of people leaving the country.

“While the total number of Russians who leave for good remains relatively small, the profile of the typical emigrant has changed. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the most common emigrant was a poor, unskilled young man. Today, it is a well-off professional,” according to World Policy.

“People who have it good are starting to leave,” Anton Nosski, a tech entrepreneur, told World Policy.

Other notable successful and intellectual individuals who have left include chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, journalist Leonid Bershidsky, and the founder of VKontakte (Russia’s version of Facebook) Pavel Durov.

For the most part, these people are leaving for their professional futures. “Corruption, red tape, and allegedly crooked courts are [also] driving the exodus among entrepreneurs,” according to Reuters.

However, others have stated that they’re leaving for their children.

“I want my children to grow up in a fairer country, one where the rule of law is more or less observed. I used think it was possible to build a better society in Russia, but I’ve basically lost all hope now. It’s time to leave,” one Russian businessman told Vocativ.

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