March 15, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9830

For Russia, An Accelerated Brain Drain Is Another Cost Of The Ukraine Fighting

March 15, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9830

Kommersant reported that the Russian IT sector is facing a massive outflow of personnel abroad. Almost a third of Russian cybersecurity startups would like to move their business abroad. About 11% "do not see an opportunity" to continue working in Russia.[1]

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's press secretary commented on these reports to reporters: "The IT sector around the world is extremely mobile in terms of personnel. The term "remote work" was firmly established in their lives even prior to the pandemic. Measures have been taken to support the IT sector, which will begin operating in the near future. In this sector, staff turnover is a constant. It may be stronger or weaker, but now measures have been taken to support [the industry], which, we hope, will yield results."[2]

A few days earlier Novaya Gazeta's Ilya Azar interviewed Russian high-tech workers, who are sitting out the war in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. They chose this location because Armenia was already too crowded with Russians. These workers were strongly considering leaving Russia for good and provided explanations for their decision. They essentially believed that conditions were too stultifying in Russia. Furthermore, with Western sanctions, Russia's high-tech sector would perennially lag behind.

The article by Azar follows below:[3]

As a result of the Ukraine fighting's repercussions Facebook loses altitude in Russia while the Russian VKontakte soars above it (Source:

"Kyrgyzstan has never seen so many visitors from Russia at the same time. All hotels, hostels, and restaurants are packed with Russians, who left their homeland amid the "military operation" and the intensified repression of dissenters. Ilya Azar, "Novaya Gazeta's" special correspondent, interviewed Russians about what prompted them to leave Russia, what future plans they have, and whether they are concerned about the attitude towards Russians abroad.

Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Stanislav, an employee of a scientific institute

I just succumbed to the overall panic.

"Basically. I had little respect for what has been going on in Russia over the past few years, but now [the authorities] are way out of line, and I have the moral right to leave everything and start thinking about emigration. I thought broadly about what awaits our industry and myself personally. Although at first, I had no immediate plans to leave the country.

"We started looking at different options: what we could do, where to go. Additionally, I have a small team, and being its manager, I wanted to do so in a way that the staff member also would have the opportunity to move, provided they wanted to do so. I wanted to make sure that the lab's disappearance wouldn't be a crushing blow, to those employees that wouldn't want to leave the country. But [regarding the staff], frankly, I still have no clear plan.

"That week panicky sentiments reached the point that it was feared that the authorities were set to close the border and declare martial law. The probability of that seemed miniscule, but, on the other hand, the probability of [the forbidden equivalent of the word "special operation"] also seemed miniscule. I was pretty sure that nothing like that would happen. [but rather that the parties] would frighten each other, exchange sanctions and counter-sanctions, and then go their separate ways, having achieved their goals. But then this situation started to develop in an avalanche-like manner, and at some point I simply panicked and decided that my March holidays plans should be changed, and that I should go on vacation to Kyrgyzstan.

"My girlfriend's passport expired, which fact we just didn't notice due to the [COVID-19] pandemic. Thus, we were left with only two options: Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Armenia is over flooded now [with Russians], it seems that the entire Moscow's IT-community has relocated there, and the [plane] tickets are very expensive.

Osh Airport (Source:

"For some reason, I hope that the apocalyptic scenario won't materialize and the situation will come to some kind of equilibrium, however bad it may be. After that I will be able to come to Russia, to discharge the obligations that I currently have to the extent possible. After all, I cannot simply abandon my students and graduate students and then leave. In the meantime, the plan consists of observing developments from the outside, feeling a little bit calmer.

"I spent quite a lot of time abroad, I studied as a postdoc (postdoc is a status that exists in a number of Western countries for a student on an academic research track. - Ed.) abroad, after which I returned to Russia, in principle, by my own conscious decision. This was around the time of Bolotnaya Square [the events back in 2012 protesting Putin's return to the presidency for a third term].

"At that time, of course, there were already red flags, but there was also enthusiasm, as it seemed that even if the protest per se wouldn't work, the authorities got a feedback [from the public] and now would little by little engage if not in liberalization, then, at least, the normalization of the situation. A non-trivial consideration –, back then there was an economic boom and science was developing tangibly!

"After the poor situation of the 90s and of early 2000s, money and prospects had appeared in science. For example, the Skolkovo Innovation Center was created around the same time. It seemed to me that [it would be interesting to work] in Russia, that there are non-linear opportunities, because that in the West have more or less linear trajectory, and it is clear what and how you have to do there. And my colleagues and I managed to launch an awesome project, a laboratory that operates on a world class level.

"But things have been moving very hard lately. In Russia, objectively, it has become very difficult to pursue science and technology, and to purchase foreign equipment. Now our foreign colleagues have made it very clear that there will be no interaction with Russia in the near future, and there is a feeling that such things are being introduced very quickly and will take a very long time to be cancelled. But the work has been progressing very hard lately. In Russia, objectively speaking, it has become very difficult to do science and technology, to purchase foreign equipment. Now our foreign colleagues have made it very clear that there will be no cooperation with Russia in the near future. I have a feeling that such things are being introduced rather quickly, but will take a very long time to be lifted.

"This is already a psychological moment: they are simply afraid of us, and the Western European scientific community seems to be in panic. In Germany, on nearly the ministerial level decrees are passed to ensure that  all joint projects with Russian scientists will cease to exist. [The number of criminal cases for treason against scientists] has skyrocketed, which is also an alarm bell. However, so far this hasn’t affected every family in Russia (although one can expect tightening of the screws). After all, it is most infuriating that I, for example, have to report on meetings with foreigners. I do not work in a top security facility, but the Ministry of Education and Science believes that every contact with foreigners should be recorded. I have a foreign colleague working at Skolkovo, and theoretically, after every meeting I have to report on what I discussed with him. Meanwhile, we are fighting for international cooperation, and we have accepted KPI indicators for publications in international science magazines. This is a schizophrenic situation.

Skolkovo Innovation Center (

"I participated at the Bolotnaya Square [demonstrations]. In addition, it frustrates me that it will be impossible to write what you think on Facebook. And the fact that I didn't write much there doesn't mean that I wouldn't want to have such an opportunity. It's one thing not to take advantage of an opportunity, and it's quite another thing not to have it altogether. I've also signed a letter of scientists against [the "special operation"], and now it seems this is enough for an administrative case.

"But this does not scare me very much, I do not believe that there will be repressions against all six thousand signatories from all universities and institutes. This will be a total madness! If [scientists] will be scared to the point that they start fleeing [the country] like cockroaches, then who in Russia will do something?

"It's already obvious that technology is going to stop developing [in Russia] altogether. I cannot grasp how anyone can not understand this. The leadership, naturally, hopes that the opposite will occur, that there will be some impetus for import substitution. Well they need to somehow motivate people. The plan is that we will now manufacture what we used to buy. This is certainly useful, but now Russia will have to deal with exclusively this task. There will be no imported equipment, and it should be understood that 98% of a modern experimental science laboratory consists of foreign equipment. Instead of engaging in science, we will first spend 10 years on the manufacture of such equipment, and, thus, will never win this race. This way we won't be able to reach to some sort of technological parity. Now everyone will find out that our semiconductor plants are incapable of manufacturing any modern chips.

"And I don't really see how it's a good thing if we replace the West's [products] with Chinese ones. Then we will become China's mere proxy. We will play the same role for the PRC as the DPR and LPR played for us [Russia] in the Ukrainian conflict. They were weirdos with guns, and we will be China's weirdos with warheads. I believe that Russians residing abroad will be unhappy, as an allergy to the word "Russian" will exist for some time to come, because there is some observable hysteria on the other [i.e. Western] side as well. To be honest, I would very much like to avoid this, but people are the same everywhere. For instance, while reviewing Russian scientific articles, people will subconsciously give lower marks, or even officially decide to "kill" our articles.

"I believe that there was no full reflection on the decision by Visa and Mastercard to withdraw from the country. Apparently, no one in this situation thought about the interests of those Russians, who reside abroad, and if someone did, he considered it to be insignificant.

"The decision was passed to introduce strangling sanctions. And many companies did this not in compliance with a government demand, but on their own volition. Just as in the case with BLM, they went a little overboard, as there were absolutely absurd cases, when it became a research proposal requirement (even in astrophysics) to include a clause about diversity and equality.

"Almost everyone with whom I am actively communicating is thinking of leaving [the country]. So far people are thinking about what to do with real estate and jobs. Generally speaking, today's university graduates are mostly focused on the West. The movement by students over to graduate studies is very low in Russia.

"I simply don't want to help to build the kind of state that Russia has now turned into. I essentially work for the state. I can justify myself by saying that we are outside of politics and engage in science, but this is not entirely true. We work in a state institute, we receive state grants from various sources of funding, including, let's say, paramilitary grants. And this is psychologically not very pleasant."

Alexei, an IT specialist, and Sofia, a housewife

"Sofia: We didn't plan to leave, at least not so quickly. But I've realized that we have to leave, when I came out of the house [one day] and saw that it was painted with 'Z' [for victory] symbols. I grasped that real people do in fact support what was going on. I was struck, when I heard what people on the streets were saying. It made me uneasy, and I realized that I didn't want to remain living among these people. After made the decision, we flew out on the same day.

"Alexei: "The company [I work for] offered me to move, and we've taken the offer. Many of my colleagues stayed behind, as [they had] families, children, schools, parents, grandparents to look after. A lot of people that worked in IT left, because companies often have offices in Europe or America and have more opportunities to relocate employees.

"I believe that [they didn't leave] for good, but rather for a long time, until the situation somehow stabilizes. People have relatives, friends, possessions, property, and a cat back home. We'll be here temporarily for now, but the company is dealing with issues, searching for options.

"The fact that one is unable to post a number of words on Facebook is certainly an unpleasant thing, but the more important thing is that first regulations will be introduced for the IT-business in Russia. Then it will be gradually wrecked, and finally shut down.

"The European and the US markets will gradually close to Russia, thanks to both efforts from abroad and from within the country. And if the external sanctions can somehow be tolerated (in addition, they'll most likely be lifted when the situation will stabilize), the situation within the country is more complex. If the state decides to take over the IT sphere it will be the final [blow]. So, for many people a decision to leave is hard and unpleasant, but most likely the only available one.

"Sofia: We made the decision to leave when they [the authorities] shut down the free media.

"Alexei: When "Silver Rain" radio announced that they were cancelling all shows and that there will be only music on the air, this became one of the motives [for leaving]. Nowadays it's hard not to be a politicized person, because it's hard to turn a blind eye to the unfolding events and invent some sort of explanation. But all this is the natural result of a process that has been underway for the last two decades. There used to be some hope that the president and the government's policy would change, but now there is no more hope.

"Being Russians, we aren't welcomed anywhere now, the only option is to forget about our nationality and to immigrate as a specialist. It is hard for Russians nowadays. After all, the world community's sentiments are  understandable. And it's difficult to find counterarguments. But someone, i.e. emigrants, specialists, and intellectuals will still have to defend the honor of Russians [abroad]."

Ivan, a worker in the IT industry

"I look at the situation pragmatically and soberly: there is a certain set of risks (both short-term and long-term ones) that can be actualized in the country. Everyone determines a certain critical level of these risks for themselves. For some people [the red line is] the beginning of the [banned [war] word] and the appearance of armed people on the streets, while for some the red line was the dispersal of Bolotnaya Square protests.

"My friends and I, by the way, went to the Bolotnaya Square protests.

"For us, people with a background in physics and mathematics, the famous picture with the "Churov distribution" [Named after the head of the Central Election Commission Vladimir Churov. The CEC's data showed a strong variance from the election protocols at the voting precinct instead of resembling a mean Gaussian distribution] looked, to put it mildly, not a Gaussian distribution... It [the electoral fraud] was obvious, and naturally we went to the rally. Back then, I had no family, and the risks [of protesting] were unclear during the first rally. Then enthusiasm diminished- this state policy in terms of intimidation has been effective. I can call myself a passive oppositionist, but I did translate something to Navalny.

"Back then there was no family, and the risks were not understood at the first rally. Later my enthusiasm [for protesting] diminished, as the state's policy of intimidation proved to be effective. I could call myself a passive oppositionist, but I did transfer some donations to Navalny.

"I guess my transition to active planning of departure came when I got word from friends, who are information savvy and have a lot of connections, that a ban for the men under 60 from leaving the country and martial law might be introduced.  Additionally, a bill was tabled [in the Duma], which criminalized the distribution of fake news. After that I've reached my limit. It was five o'clock in the evening, and already during the last work "Zoom" meeting, at which I was present, but my mind was elsewhere, I began looking for tickets. By 11 I was able, on my third attempt, to book a ticket to Osh the next morning.

"I can live with the "law on fake [information]," but it doesn't really coincide with my moral values. I am an adult and I make my decision consciously. I didn't choose this power, but each nation has the kind of ruler it deserves. I have a son, and he didn't choose any of this, neither the country he was born in, so if I would be in his shoes, when he will be an adult, I'd ask my dad a good question, "How is it that we ended up in such a mess?"

"Also, I remember there was a case after Bolotnaya Square: a man, who had nothing to do with the protests, was leaving a bar, and got detained. If my son would've been detained, I would have been very upset, to put it mildly, I would have felt guilty that this was happening. That's why I'm proceeding from the idea that we need to give my son the option to live in a normal, safe country. Should he want to return, he can always do so. After all, no one has taken away his Russian passport.

"In this regard news about the March 3rd lesson in schools served as a catalyst for me. Such things trigger me. It's okay to force propaganda upon adults, but teaching children at school about the 'special operation' is already out of line.

"Since this is not the first time I'm leaving Russia, I have long formed a certain opinion. Generally, I'm a cosmopolitan and I differentiate between the concepts of 'citizenship', 'country' and 'state.'

"It may be my professional infirmity speaking but to me the country is sort of a product, a package of services that you receive in exchange for taxes. What's the point in paying for services that don't work well or don't suit you? Everyone has the right to change their country of residence as a sort of service that he or his family receives. You can be a Russian living in Russia, and perhaps you can be a Russian living in Australia.

"It seems to me that everyone abroad understands that Russian people are a one thing, and things that the government does is another. There is no Russophobia whatsoever. While living a year in each of two EU member-states, I never once witnessed any anti-Russian sentiments, even though the "Crimean story" already had happened back then.

"I can give you an example: I was living in a village of one the EU member-states, and my neighbors told me when they met me, "[If] you need any help, turn to us." So, once, my acquaintances came to visit me. There was some kind of hurricane, the railroad was covered in leaves, trains were canceled. The airport was about 150 kilometers away, so I asked my neighbors for a car and they handed me the keys. Can you imagine such a situation in Moscow, it would be like a Tajik coming to me and saying, "I need to go to the train station to pick up my buddies, can I have a car?" I don't believe I would've given him the keys.

"There's even no point in comparing where we're treated better: abroad or in our own country, where you can get locked up for some rubbish.

"The Western companies leaving from market, and almost all decisions that concern sanctions (except maybe those that directed against Putin's entourage), affect common folk. The Visa and Mastercard companies that will suspend operations of their credit cards in Russia, will affect people to the greatest extent. It seems to me that this has been in fact done on purpose. When the measures that can directly deal harm to Putin's inner circle were depleted and it turned out that they have no effect, then they [the West] started to turn to those measures that affect [ordinary] people.

"It is not clear for how long [foreign payment systems have left the Russian market], one can get a credit card in another country for now. Well, this problem is relevant, as long as one receives a salary in Russia [from a foreign company]. However, if you plan to travel somewhere for a long time, it's probably more of a temporary problem.

"If the situation de-escalates in a month, then we will see.

"But I'm prepared for the possibility that I may not return. There are relatives, thank God, who I can be asked (provided it will be possible to leave the country in a first place) to bring some of my things. But morally speaking I have probably come to terms with the possible separation from the material world that was created [in Russia]. After all, that is not the most important thing in life.

"I have a plan: to find some country with a more or less decent standard of living, and either continue to work remotely, or to find a job abroad, which should not be a problem either. After all my profession is in demand and I have no issues with English. I have already a response to my resume, and no one wrote: 'Oh, God, no, you're from Russia!'"


[1], March 14, 2022.

[2], March 14, 2022.

[3], March 11, 2022.

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