- Germans began settling in Russia during the 16th century. Under the reign of Catherine the Great (1762–1796), German settlers were granted special rights, including exemption from conscription, precipitously increasing the number of immigrants from Central Europe. Many settled in the Volga region, then a buffer zone between the Slavs and nomadic peoples such as the Kazakhs and Kalmyks. In later centuries, Germans also settled in the Black Sea region, the North Caucasus, and other parts of European Russia. Following the establishment of the Soviet Union, Germans became the titular majority of the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The administrative region existed from 1924 until 1942, when it was permanently abolished (becoming part of the Saratov Oblast during World War II). Volga Germans were deported en masse to Siberia and Kazakhstan as a potential fifth column, suffering extremely high casualty rates in the process. Able-bodied Germans in other parts of European Russia were detained and placed in gulags where approximately one-third perished. Unlike other punished peoples, the ethnic Germans (along with Crimean Tatars) were not officially rehabilitated by Nikita Khrushchev after Joseph Stalin’s death, although their banishment was rescinded in 1964. The right of return to European Russia was extended a decade later. Under perestroika, ethnic Germans began to take advantage of West Germany’s Law of Return, which recognized jus sanguinis (Latin: “law of blood”) and granted citizenship to ethnic German returnees. Emigration from Asiatic Russia continued after independence in 1991; however, the exodus has slowed due to more stringent language requirements being placed on prospective immigrants to Germany. Germans are still a sizable minority in the Russian Federation, numbering nearly 600,000. In 1992, Boris Yeltsin, as part of an agreement with Germany, made special concession for German resettlement in the Volga region. Some ethnic Germans have migrated to the historically German territory of Kaliningrad, which for a period of time was considered as the site of a German ethnic republic within the Russian Federation. Under a plan initiated by Vladimir Putin, Moscow intends to invest more than $100 million by 2012 in infrastructure and housing in Novosibirsk and the Volga region to encourage Russian Germans to return to the land of their birth. Returnees are granted €3,000, travel compensation, and free shipment of their belongings.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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