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Moscow Times
November 7, 2005
New Office to Support Russians Abroad
By Anna Smolchenko
Staff Writer

The Foreign Ministry is setting up a department to support Russian expatriates in what appears to be an attempt to win back millions living abroad.

Supporting Russian expatriates is a "priority of Russian foreign policy and is vital and timely," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

This year, the ministry plans to channel more than 300 million rubles ($10.5 million) into lending Russian expatriates legal, economic, cultural and spiritual support, the statement said.

More than 25 million Russians reside abroad, of whom some 17 million live in the Commonwealth of Independent States, the ministry said.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians have been leaving the country in droves, many seeking a better life in the West. Among wealthy Russians, London, which is jokingly called Moscow on the Thames, has become a favorite destination.

In its Russian Economic Report released last week, the World Bank said Russia was in the midst of a "severe demographic crisis," with aging and depopulation likely to continue for decades.

Asked whether the newly created department would be enticing Russians to come back home, Mikhail Troyansky, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the department would be dealing with a "wide range of issues" including this one, but declined to elaborate.

The World Bank said Russia would need to seriously reconsider its immigration policy to attract not only Russians but also "a huge potential migrant pool of millions of skilled Russian-speaking residents in former Soviet countries."

"It's time to introduce a point-based system" for the evaluation of potential migrants, the World Bank's chief economist for Russia, John Litwack, said at the report's presentation last week.

The country's shrinking work force has led to predictions of future economic losses.

The problem will become particularly acute in 2007 and Russia will need an annual inflow of 1 million immigrants to keep the economy going, the World Bank report said.

In his state-of-the-nation address in April, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia was "interested in an influx of qualified legal workers" and that immigration policy reform should be a national priority.