- The global community of ethnic Russians who live beyond the borders of the Russian Federation is approximately 30 million, making it second only to overseas Chinese in total numbers. The “old” Russian diaspora dates to the early 20th century, when large numbers of Russian émigrés fled the civil war and persecution by the Bolshevik regime. During this period, they principally settled in the United States, France, Serbia, China, and Great Britain. Prior to 1917, most Russian immigrants were religious minorities, such as Jews and Old Believers. During World War II, a second wave of Russians, including many Cossacks, fled the Soviet Union, fearing reprisals from Joseph Stalin for real or imagined acts against the state.The Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s totalitarian controls on society precluded mass emigration during most of the Cold War, and most who left the country were dissidents or defectors. In the 1970s, the “refusenik” movement saw many Russian Jews attempting to quit the country for Israel or the U.S. Under perestroika, Soviet citizens enjoyed hitherto unavailable opportunities to travel abroad, and many used this new freedom to emigrate.The nature of the Russian diaspora was dramatically altered in December 1991, when the dissolution of the Soviet Union left 25 million ethnic Russians out of the newly independent Russian Federation. Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Uzbekistan possessed the largest communities of Russians, though Russians also represented nearly a third of the population of the newly independent states of Estonia and Latvia. The political situation of these socalled co-fatherlanders quickly became an important domestic issue in Russian politics and determined Russia’s foreign relations with its post-Soviet neighbors.Since 1991, the number of ethnic Russians in the near abroad has decreased by 6 million, but still remains the core of the diaspora. During the 1990s, large numbers of Russians relocated to Germany as guest workers alongside a flood of Russophone ethnic Germans returning to their ancestral homeland; smaller communities of economic immigrants formed in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and other wealthy countries. The continued immigration of Russian Jews to Israel has altered the country’s political fabric, including the proliferation of Russian language newspapers and other media, as well as the emergence of a political party dedicated to the interests of Russophone Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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