While emigration from Russia since the February 24, 2022 invasion does not approach the number of Ukrainians who were forced to flee their country, the number of those leaving Russia is estimated at 1,000,000. That figure includes a disproportionate number of young males and professionals who can find employment abroad or even retain their former job in Russia while working remotely.
For both demographic reasons and a desire to reverse the brain drain, Russia ideally would want these people back. As opposed to the emigration that followed the Communist victory in the Russian Civil War, many of those leaving do not see themselves as emigres but as have temporarily relocated and hope to be back in Russia once things settle down and they no longer have to fear mobilization or harsh repression.
This has created a dilemma for the authorities in Russia. The war in Ukraine has been billed as something akin to World War II. In the current war, Russia is fighting to save its compatriots from the Nazi regime in Kyiv backed by the collective West that is using Ukraine to dismember Russia. Therefore, even those who left without fanfare, are shirkers at best and traitors at worst for letting other Russians fight and die. Those, who openly criticize Russia and declare their sympathy for Ukraine are even worse. Momentum has been growing for taking off the gloves and making it harder for those who have the best of both worlds– a Russian job without patriotic obligations.
On the other hand, the Russian Ministry of Finance has been resistant to punitive measures against the leavers. For one thing, it is not easy to source alternate skilled employees who speak the language. Punitive measures could make the divorce final and IT specialists could find employment with foreign companies or they and the Russian companies could simply evade higher taxes.
However ironic it may seem; the regime has to cope with a legal dilemma. Leaving Russia is not a crime and therefore, even in the case of regime critics, who have gone abroad a constitutional or legal basis must be established before the activity is criminalized and punished.
MEMRI's report on the controversy follows below:
Russian IT specialist works remotely from tropical refuge (Source: Interfax.ru)
Calls For Harsh Measures Against Leavers
The Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation's Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, urged that Russians who left the country and want Russia's defeat, despising it, be considered enemies of society. Medvedev condemned the leavers for contemning as inferior everyone who supports victory over Ukrainian Nazism. They were therefore "traitors who hate their country so much that they call for its defeat and death who should be considered hostis publicus, enemies of society." On December 25, the Speaker of the Russian State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin announced the preparation of a bill providing for the abolition of preferences and an increase in the tax rate for Russians who left the country. He noted that citizens, having left the Russian Federation, continue to enjoy the available benefits.
Volodin assured the public that initiatives to introduce special conditions for those people who had left Russia during the special operation but continued to work in Russia were not forgotten, but only deferred. The speaker launched a poll on the Web to verify whether the citizens who remained in the country, support the relevant legislative changes aimed at depriving relocators of their current privileges and benefits.
Volodin did not conceal his belief that it would be wrong to maintain preferences and benefits for those who had left the country, or more accurately, fled from it after the start of the special operation. "The one who realized that he made a mistake has already returned. The rest should understand: the vast majority of society does not support their act - they believe that they have betrayed their country, relatives and friends" wrote the Duma speaker.
Volodin believed that it was only fair to introduce an "increased rate of taxation" for such fugitives, who were still working remotely from abroad, rather than maintaining them in the greenhouse conditions that the law guarantees them."
Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (Source: Ria.ru)
Despite such high-level sentiment in favor of penalizing the leavers, this sentiment did not translate into legislation. The main reason was opposition from the finance ministry.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that the amendments on the taxation of Russian citizens working from abroad must not adversely affect business.
"We could probably say that when certain services are provided from abroad on the territory of the Russian Federation, a tax can be paid from them. And we, in fact, want to make sure that taxes are paid without creating any negative incentives. Therefore, we are weighing the proposals of the deputies, and the government will decide on its position," the minister said.
Siluanov feared that if the government introduces "special taxation procedures," businesses may stop paying taxes to the Russian budget.
"They can register a company, provide services on the territory of the Russian Federation, respectively, no personal income tax, nothing will happen," Siluanov explained. 
Finance Minister Anton Siluanov (Source: Interfax.ru)
The ombudsman for labor legislation Dmitry Porochkin argued that the belief that one could replenish the state budget at the expense of those who left Russia was unfounded.
"I am not sure that this goal will be achieved, because after the tax increase, some entrepreneurs will go into 'gray' employment: they can officially dismiss their employees and transfer more wages in envelopes. For a number of workers, this can serve as a critical measure, and they will look for another job, because over the past few years, employees have become accustomed to the fact that we still pay white wages, explained Porochkin.
One tax expert believed that a draconian tax on leavers would boomerang: "Such employees will tend to either a) avoid working for Russian companies, meaning Russian companies will get worse, b) Russian companies will try to offset this difference in taxes to such employees, and they will also get worse because they will become less competitive. And c) - in fact, this will push employees to work for foreign companies, in which case not only the 13-15% of personal income tax [that the remote workers currently paid] will not go to the Russian budget, but 30% of insurance premiums that employers continue to pay from departed employees will not come yet ".
Why Has The Issue Surfaced Now?
As the exodus began already with the start of the invasion, the question arises why is this issue coming to the fore precisely now?
Georgy Kamnev, secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, accused the authorities of using the issue as a smokescreen: "Some speakers from the authorities have to constantly look for enemies in order to divert the population's attention while simultaneously appearing as ardent patriots. But loud statements are one thing, and how they will affect real life is quite another." Kamenev refuses to regard those who left the country, but in the majority work for Russian companies and the country's economy as enemies: "The real danger are the oligarchs who take hundreds of billions of dollars out of the Russian Federation, investing them in Western states, but the authorities found it dangerous to fight with them, and then they found those with whom it is safe to fight - with emigrants. But if their opportunities are limited, then they will simply find a job in foreign campaigns and will invest their talent, intelligence and knowledge gained in Russia in the economy of other countries." Kamnev considers it counterproductive to stigmatize the leavers and would try to calmly and reasonably persuade them to return to Russia. "Otherwise, it may turn out that we will be stepping on our own throats."
Georgy Kamnev (Source: Penzanews.ru)
Galina Mikhaleva, a member of the liberal party Yabloko’s federal bureau, believed the campaign was geared to prevent further departures and preserve the manpower pool for subsequent mobilizations: "The government’s goal is very simple – to ensure that those who remain in the country begin to have a negative attitude towards leaving, realizing that there are no prospects abroad, no one will allow them to work remotely. All this can be explained simply: it may be necessary to replenish the army with new fighters, but if the young men leave, then whom to call up?" As proof of her theory Mikhaleva cited the authorities' equanimity towards the departure of older men and women, and before mobilization, they also treated the departure of men of military age similarly. But now, "probably, a desire exists to bring back home those who can serve, and dissuade those who are just about to leave." Mikhaleva is convinced that the economic pressure would fail, because when confronted by a choice between personal security and economic wellbeing, most would opt for the former.
Mikhail Yemelyanov, a member of the central council of A Just Russia - For Truth, believes that "there is an attempt on the part of the state in this way to prevent a new outflow of those who have remained, and to complicate life for those who have already left so that they return back." The current campaign was motivated by necessity and politics. The state by its own calculations had bled about 200 thousand young IT specialists left creating both an economic problem as well as a demographic one. Politically, the campaign resonated with the authorities' political base. "Many Russians are annoyed by fleeing draft dodgers, older people see this as a rejection of military duty and service to their homeland, so the initiatives of deputies and senators will find a positive response. Of course, we are mainly talking about the Soviet, pre-perestroika generations, brought up in the old traditions, about people who put the public good above the individual." Yemelyanov believed that the campaign would be limited to rhetoric and that no drastic measures will be taken against the relocators, due to opposition within the government and other branches of power. "The authorities are well aware that if they do not take drastic steps, then most specialists will return as soon as the situation calms down. Now the authorities are trying to find a balance: not to scare away some and instructively punish others," emphasized Yemelyanov.
Aleksey Makarkin, first vice-president of the Center for Political Technologies believes that the authorities awoke to the importance of the emigrants to the Russian economy, and the security danger of IT specialists working in enemy countries or free to move to them: "The authorities have a desire to differentiate those who have left, to separate those who can protest from those who want to live in peace and left for domestic reasons. Now the realization has dawned that precisely this part of emigrants - for example, IT specialists, is important for the modern economy. But at the same time, the security topic objectively arose, since computer scientists and technical specialists now often work from hostile or potentially hostile countries in the West and the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. And those who live in friendly countries can move to enemy countries at any time."
Therefore, the pressure is on the apolitical segment, while the regime would prefer that the real dissidents should continue residing abroad. In any case, predicts Makarkin, the measures, if implemented would have mixed results. Some specialists may return, but others can find work in foreign companies. 
To follow Makarkin's logic, if the regime is conflicted about applying pressure on those who left for convenience or personal safety, but has written off those emigrants, who criticize Russia following their departure, it should feel free to take harsh measures against them. Indeed, Senator Sergei Tsekov, who represents Crimea in the upper chamber favors seizing their property and distributing it amongst those participating in the war. This should be done irrespective of "whether they are stars or IT people."
State Duma deputy Yevgeny Popov called for the cancellation of passports by "provisional Smolyaninovs". This was a specific reference to actor Artur Smolyaninov, who said in an interview that he would fight on Kyiv's side, if he had to enter into a conflict. Popov stressed that normally it is wrong to punish for words, but in this case words constitute a threat to other citizens and the state.
Senator Andrey Klishas, who heads the Constitutional Legislation Committee fired back in his Telegram channel: "There is no need to play with words and compete with Ukraine in ways of violating the rights of its own citizens." Earlier, he wrote that politicians who call to stop "playing by the rules" and not paying attention to the Constitution "should leave the country's constitutional bodies." Apparently, he had in mind the deputy Oleg Morozov, a former member of the presidential administration who criticized the "truth-loving lawyers", who defend constitutional norms and, in particular, the ban on depriving citizenship. ""And after that, truth-loving lawyers will explain to me that it is impossible to strip citizenship, since this is contrary to the Constitution... But let our state have such a right. For this [critics of Russia] is scum, that definitely has no place in Russia and in its legal field!
Oleg Morozov (Source: Rbc.ru)
Dmitry Medvedev intervened in the dispute. He wrote that "traitors who have defected to the enemy and want the death of their Fatherland" should be dealt with according to the law, but "if the law does not work or does not achieve its goal, then according to the special rules of wartime." Senator Klishas replied that special wartime rules in Russia have not yet been introduced or approved, so you need to be guided by the law and the Constitution.
Morozov assumed that Klishas' remarks about those abandoning the rules were specifically targeted at him. He penned "a response to Senator Klishas." In it, the deputy emphasized that he did not directly propose depriving certain Russians of citizenship but rather "a completely constitutional procedure for a temporary entry ban into the country by a court decision can be proposed." Such restrictions, in his opinion, could be applied to Russians "engaged in anti-constitutional activities while outside the country."
Morozov again referred to actor Artur Smolyaninov, The deputy quoted the actor’s statements and suggested that he might well return to the country: "And we, according to the strict senator Klishas, mournfully purse our lips and whisper into our fists: democracy, human rights, he is a citizen of the Russian Federation! How can he be touched? It should be noted that both Klishas and Morozov are members of the ruling United Russia Party.
State Duma deputy Yana Lantratova accused Smolyaninov of losing contact with Russia and now enunciating views that are "closer to the position of the enemy." She advocated criminal and other penalties for "speaking against the country." Political scientist George Bovt found the trend worrisome. "The number of such criminal cases against well-known figures who have left is increasing. The number of various initiatives in relation to opposition-minded 'relocators' in general is also growing. Where is it all going?
" If, however, we now follow the path, as deputy Lantratova suggests..., then we can go far. Especially given the manner of many officials and law enforcement officers to equate criticism and attacks on the country and criticism of its leadership. And we already walked this crooked path when there were criminal articles for many years... for 'anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda', and those who left for permanent residence abroad were called 'traitors to the motherland' even in late Soviet times. Many were deprived of citizenship and property. Later, however, for people like [cellist Mstislav] Rostropovich, they had to be restored".
Drize: Discussion Should Be Enshrined
Kommersant columnist Dmitry Drize was intrigued by the fact that the issue had become a topic of open debate, something that had become a rarity in Russia. He wrote "The year 2022 ends with a heated debate within the [Russian] power vertical about what to do with the Russians who fled the country. And it’s not that such a discussion is outright sensational, but it does look a little bit unusual, to say the least. Or, perhaps, we are just weary of any discussion on sensitive topics...
"In this regard, I would like to make a New Year’s wish or a toast (whatever you prefer): may there be more discussions in our society and even within the power structure! To put it more accurately, let them [discussions] be preserved as a genre. As the saying goes, truth is born in disputes.
"The latter factor is of direct benefit to the state. As for those who have fled the country, maybe we should try to bring them back in a good way? For instance, 'come back, we will forgive you, we are kind.' After all, if one to frighten one’s own citizens with terrible penalties, it seems that not many will be willing to buy a return ticket to Russia."
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