1 March 2022

Let’s help sink Putin’s regime by welcoming talented Russians to this country

By

As the horrifying war on Ukraine continues, the West is rightly looking for as many ways as possible to hobble the Putin regime.

Sanctions and military aid should at least slow down the Russian military and weaken the Russian economy, hopefully making it harder for Russia to wage war and for Putin’s position to become more unstable.

However, there is more division, especially in the UK, over our attitude towards Russian citizens. It’s certainly a good move to deport those with close links to the Kremlin and to seize their assets in the hope that these oligarchs will eventually turn against Putin. But what of Tom Tugendhat and his suggestion that we could expel every Russian citizen in the UK?

Such an approach would not only be deeply illiberal, but totally counter-productive. There are many Russians living in the UK precisely because they hate Putin and his regime. Among them are his political opponents who have championed democracy and free elections. Were they to return would almost certainly end up in prison or even executed, as the Russian government is apparently considering reintroducing capital punishment. Then there are those who just want to live a quiet life, but because they are LGBT+ for example, they are not free to live and to love as they would like in Russia and would face persecution if they were to return.

Expelling all Russians from the UK would also play straight into Putin’s hands. He could claim that the UK hates Russia and its people and that his invasion is justified to strike back at a ‘Russophobic’ West. We would risk losing political capital, even among the Russians who so bravely protested in their own country against the invasion of Ukraine.

Instead, we should do the opposite of what Tugendhat suggests. Rather than expel Russians, we should make it far easier for Russians to move to the UK. There are obviously security concerns, and I’m not talking about taking in any of Putin’s friends, but rather young people, especially those with scientific and technical skills.

For one thing, this is the right thing to do. If Putin is going to continue down his path of belligerence and turn Russia into a pariah state, then it will be ordinary people who suffer the most. We should offer a chance of escape to young people who want a better life outside his dictatorship.

In my view, we should have a much more liberal approach to immigration anyway, but allowing an increase in immigration from a country hostile to us would do wonders for the reputation of Global Britain as a place of liberalism, tolerance, and where foreigners are welcome, it might also help to shift some Russians’ towards the UK – though it’s hard to overstate the intensity of the anti-Western propaganda with which they are bombarded.

There is also a more strategic case to be made. If we were to reform the immigration system and make it far easier for Russian people with degrees in science and engineering to come here then we could help accelerate Russia’s brain drain. Why not let STEM graduates come here, irrespective of whether or not they have a job offer? Doing so would not only improve our own economy but undermine Russia’s ability to develop the technology on which its war machine relies. It’s striking that the EU is now considering going as far as offering qualified Russians passports, for precisely these reasons.

Obviously we would have to ensure vetting took place to ensure that Putin’s cronies can’t benefit from such a scheme. It will also require money to bring people here and to fund their research, but that could be provided by the assets seized from the oligarchs. And we would  need to build more homes, but that’s something we should be doing anyway.

The idea of actively encouraging immigration might seem odd given the current climate, but countries have actively tried to increase the number of workers coming to their countries in the past, including by incentivising them with money. 

Russia is a beautiful country with a rich history and wonderful people. Hopefully one day, once Putin is gone, the nation will be able to thrive again and the people who Britain has welcomed and trained will be able to return and help it rebuild. In the meantime, the UK should be welcoming any young and talented Russian who wants to start a new life.

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Ben Ramanauskas is a Research Economist at Oxford University and a former adviser to a government minister.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.