Following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 300,000 Russian citizens and residents are estimated to have left Russia by mid-March 2022 as political refugees and economic migrants, due to a desire to evade criminal prosecution for exercising free speech regarding the invasion.

What are the means Russia uses to prevent emigration out of Russia?

I believe that Russia doesn't want people to emigrate out of Russia, especially, if they are rich or skilled. What are the means by which Russia tries to keep as many people as possible within Russia? I am guessing they stopped issuing Visas for certain people, but I am wondering about all the actions they've taken to address this issue.

  • 16
    At the moment it´s the West preventing people from leaving Russia and not Russia itself.
    – convert
    Aug 16, 2022 at 12:46
  • 5
    I believe that Russia doesn't want people to emigrate out of Russia if the question is based on a belief/opinion, it is not suitable for SE (although the quarrel with the Jewish agency could be interpreted this way: theconversation.com/…). I am guessing they stopped issuing Visas for certain people Russia does not require obtaining exit visas, so, if people cannot go to certain countries, it is because they are denied visas by the country of destination, not by Russia. Aug 16, 2022 at 13:15
  • 3
    In the short run, Putin is probably not worried about this. Better to have them employed abroad and sending remittances to families than under- or unemployed at home because the Western companies cannot pay them. In the long run, it's probably a different game and the government might do something about it, but they probably bet on winning the war way before then. Aug 16, 2022 at 15:26
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    The last time I could find someone from Russia's government admitting this was a problem... was in 2010 reuters.com/article/idINIndia-53564020101214 Aug 16, 2022 at 15:40
  • 5
    I don't think the premise "Russia doesn't want people to emigrate" is correct, which makes the whole question moot. Generally, modern authoritarian regimes don't tend to restrict emigration: they prefer to clear out any (potential) dissent (without the bad PR of repressive measures) and consolidate the remaining population. The present situation is a bit more complicated, but in the main still the same.
    – Zeus
    Aug 17, 2022 at 2:01

10 Answers 10


Actually, no one forbids you to leave the country, but there are several problems that you will face (I'm native Russian, work as a C++ programmer).

  1. The job. It's not easy at all to find a job outside the country. For us, the IT guys, this quest looks not so difficult, if you are skilled enough. But for majority of people relocation is scary. Not enough savings to live long outside the country. Problems with visas and so on. If you want to leave - you can do it, but it's an option for relatively small amount of people

  2. Propaganda. Sounds scary, but really it's not that bad. Idk why, but majority of people really support current system and government. Maybe lack of information, maybe propaganda, maybe other reasons.

  3. Families, friends, etc. Imagine, that you are aged guy, who has a wife, some children, old parents. Even if you want to relocate, it will be very difficult because of that.

Some answers here suggests language problems, but these problems are not really applicable. Well educated and skilled people are likely to have enough money to leave the country and to know languages well. Others, who belongs to lower classes just don't have enough money and skills.

So, in fact you can leave, if you want and have skills.

Our government makes some steps to prevent intelligent people to leave, for example, there are some features for IT workers - you can skip army if you work in accredited organizations, but it's not that important

UPD: @Zeus, Sorry for misunderstanding. Regarding to direct actions, I can see the following:

  1. Propaganda tells, that life in the West is not that good. Most common points are high cost for electricity, gas, fuel and so on. Then comes stories about russophobia in some countries. Also, there is some concern about LGBT people (these things are not widely accepted by the significant part of population) and so on.
  2. I told about concessions for serving the army. If you have IT-related diploma and have 1 year of work experience - you can work in accredited organization and skip army. Idk correctly what accreditation is, but it's not exclusive for state companies.
  3. There are some privileges for good-experienced and high-salary IT employees for an apartment purchase. But this feature suits for really low number of people with money. So, it's possibly not the stop factor for them
  4. Maybe that's not definitely a stop factor to leave, but you can start serving the army for quite good money. Real average salary is about 30k RUB outside of capitals (Moscow and Saint-Petersburg). Government offers about 200k RUB immediately in cash and about 250k salary per month. That's a lot for the most of citizens. (Currently 1 USD is about 60 RUB)
  5. Not only Russian step, but we are restricted in payments outside Russia by VISA and MasterCard. So, you can't just buy smth outside the country easily. Of course, there are workarounds with other payment methods, like crypto stuff or something more complicated. Also, you can't get USD or EUR in cash (or it will be really difficult\illegal). The next one - if you already have enough USD\EUR in cash, you can't get more then $10k with you.

I may not know all the limitations, but these are I or my friends faced with

  • Thank you for your first hand account. However, the question asks 'what Russia does', not what common circumstances are. Could you perhaps elaborate on the points that are directly applicable, namely propaganda, which you find effective, and army concessions (and 'some steps'), which you find not? Why is that? And what are other steps?
    – Zeus
    Aug 19, 2022 at 0:46
  • Your second point is what has puzzled me for years, albeit opening up to the west, the majority of Chinese and Russian do not feel their government as portrayed by the westerners.
    – r13
    Aug 19, 2022 at 15:09
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    @alamar I think the majority of Chinese do agree with your point of view. and they don't want whatever they have never had.
    – r13
    Aug 19, 2022 at 23:06
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    @r13, some Russians don't feel our government as portrayed by the westerners just because it's not sometimes true. It's just two sides of a coin. West propaganda says Russia is terrifying, our propaganda says the opposite. As always, truth is somewhere in the middle, and life is not just black and white Aug 23, 2022 at 13:57
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    @SilvassyPetrirov, Russia does not support or like LGBT. Actually, in the near future so-called "LGBT-propaganda" may become illegal. Today it's okay to be a gay in terms of law, but big chunk of people would not agree, so lots of Russian (especially aged ones) are homophobic (not sure the term "phobia" applies here). And the TV says, that in the West there are lots of LGBT people with support from society. This is considered bad. Aug 26, 2022 at 12:45

One of the most common reasons to leave Russia is having problems with getting paid by foreign companies (I mean for usual citizens, not for members of the media ). The most notable layer of such people are engaged in IT and have a fairly high incomes in outsourced work. People don't want to lose income because of problems with SWIFT transfers, so they decide to move to neighboring countries.

Knowing that, there are laws were passed to support IT workers. For example, IT specialists are exempt from military duty, and they can get a mortgage at a reduced rate.


As for visas, as Roger Vadim said, there are no exit visas, so you can leave the country as long as you have no debts, and you don't work at secret military service

  • 6
    This mortgage at a reduced rate is seen by majority of IT specialists as a bait and switch with huge amount of risks: right now your company is 'accredited IT company' and tomorrow government takes that accreditation away and you have to pay way higher percentage. On top of this this is seen more of a support to construction companies as the mortgage is only for new buildings which are at way more inflated prices than secondary market. You can find proofs in discussion on this themes at habr.com - popular place for russian devs. Aug 17, 2022 at 1:32
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    I highly doubt that the majority of people who emigrated (or moved) recently were primarily paid by foreign sources (and hence getting paid would be "the most common reason"). From my assessment, most of the emigration surge was political, and most people are having problems getting paid, because they had jobs in Russia. (And this is the main reason for them to return). So, you should provide credible sources for your central claim.
    – Zeus
    Aug 17, 2022 at 1:46
  • 2
    It's quite hard to measure how many of emigrants are political and how many of them are IT outsourcers. I would argue that being an political activist is not a job, so there's just not that many of them, they just distort perception by being overly active on Twitter. Being an IT outsourcer is absolutely a line of job so there's a huge number of those, many of whom are having problems with payment now and some choose to relocate.
    – alamar
    Aug 17, 2022 at 9:30
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    This question is not about who left Russia, nor about the effectiveness of supporting IT professional taken. I have described the measures taken and explained the reasons why they were taken
    – Crantisz
    Aug 17, 2022 at 9:37
  • 1
    @alamar, I absolutely agree with that. It is the strong claim that this is "the most common reason" that I'm objecting to.
    – Zeus
    Aug 17, 2022 at 14:55

The central approach is arguably "make the West do it for us".

USA have been downsizing its consular services in Russia for around five years, both directly and by provoking Russia doing so as a reciprocity (such as, force Russian consulate in SF to be closed, Russia responds by closing one in Ekaterinburg (or was it St. P?). This also made life of Russian expats in the USA worse as they could not reissue their documents.

EU was for some time more lenient and issued a lot of tourist visas in Russia (there were no visa waiver program even before 2014), but after COVID-19 travel decreased immensely, compounded by the fact that EU refused to recognize Russian vaccination shots. That led to most of EU visas that Russians held expiring and not being renewed.

After the war has started, the USA has closed MasterCard/Visa cards and PayPal payments for Russians. USA and ECB also prohibited shipping physical cash to Russia. That means many Russian citizens do not have the ability to take funds with them abroad even if they have those. They have also obviously severed air traffic between Russia and EU/US - meaning that Russians usually have to go through some 3rd country such as Turkey.

Granted, some Russians do indeed move to places such as Georgia, Turkey and UAE. But they don't consider these countries as a final destination and so they may return to Russia after some time - many already do.

In general, neither the USA nor EU really wanted Russian immigrants that much. In the earliest years of 90s one could travel to EU/USA and get a refugee-like status, but that was shelved quite quickly. Germany wanted Russian citizens of german or jewish origin but had no desire to accept russians. As Russian classics said (self-translation on the side),

Я завтра снова утром синим    Tomorrow early chilly morning
Пойду евреев провожать,       I'm gonna tell the Jews goodbye
Бегут евреи из России,        For Jews are fleeing Russia proper
А русским некуда бежать...    While Russians having no way out...

in that Russians did not have any obvious emigration prospects and don't have them now. This was not true for some scientists in 90s and IT specialists in 00s onwards, but most of Russians don't have marketable skills and usually don't speak any languages besides Russian fluently.

  • Can you add a translation of the Russian classic quote you are using? Aug 16, 2022 at 21:07
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    Trains also remain cancelled between EU and Russia; this was originally due to the pandemic, but I'm not sure what the background is behind them remaining cancelled today.
    – gerrit
    Aug 16, 2022 at 21:57
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    Which "russian classic" exactly is quoted in this answer?
    – Philipp
    Aug 17, 2022 at 11:22
  • @Philipp Boris Strugatsky quotes it, I assume he composed it as well, but maybe he just wrote it down.
    – alamar
    Aug 17, 2022 at 12:55
  • Funny that you mentioned Jews... because "The Jewish Agency helps Jews around the world move to Israel. It says an astonishing 20,500 of Russia's estimated total of 165,000 Jews have gone since March." bbc.com/news/world-europe-62564122 Aug 17, 2022 at 21:58

In most of the answers here people are focusing on discussing the visa issues. I will suggest looking at the situation from another angle.

Russian government does not need to do much as due to the socio-economic reasons very small percentage of people can realistically emigrate due to:

  • low percentage of people who can speak foreign language. The numbers are showing different results, with Levada center (russian polling agency) estimates this as 14% in 2008 (based on self report where people probably inflate their skills). More detailed information here. And EF education first (company which specializes in language training claims that 5% of russians can speak English based on english proficiency index.
  • very low salaries of the average russian person. Based on the Rosstat in 2019 (probably inflated, and even if not, the salaries now are lower) the average salary is somewhere around 500$/month
  • almost no savings. Based on Levada center in 2019 (and there is very little chances that now the situation is better) average savings is 2100-3300$
  • russian propaganda claims that everyone wants to hurt russia and russians. Will not post links here as there is no shortage of them.

So, if you barely speak any other language, your savings are barely enough to get a ticket to another country and spend a few days in a cheap hotel, you are being told that enemies are everywhere, there is a huge risk of immigration as:

  • without proper planning you will lose all your money you saved all your life in a week
  • will not find any job

One might say that russian government has nothing to do with those problems, but in my opinion they are the main reason for them.

  • "can realistically immigrate" → can realistically emigrate
    – Ruslan
    Aug 17, 2022 at 13:54
  • @Ruslan thx, updated Aug 18, 2022 at 1:25
  • Levada center is among foreign agents in Russia, so it defenetly not afected to the state in any way.
    – convert
    Aug 20, 2022 at 22:11

In an attempt to somewhat fulfill the answer of @Cranitz.

Question, as it is, presumes, that emigration of some people from Russia is something bad. But it's not that obvious. Just look at this historical fact - "Philosopher ships".

And then, one of Vladimir Putin's citations (emphasis mine):

I am convinced that a natural and necessary self-detoxification of society like this would strengthen our country, our solidarity and cohesion and our readiness to respond to any challenge

So, for those who still want to emigrate, no means can be significant. Once upon a time, I've seen someone's quote: "Russian is not a nation, but a mental state" - for me, it somewhat helps understand logic over this process.


1960-1980s: Russia (in its USSR form) had pretty much efficient method of preventing emigration - people were filtered on their way OUT (unlike most countries that only filter people trying to get IN at the border).

Almost exclusively people who more or less owe their prosperity to the regime are allowed to go out. Most of them don't have any marketable skills.

Also, having a no-return friend, relative or even a coworker was pretty much detrimental to any professional or social success, so most people going out had one more reason to return - loyalty.

Fast forward 2000s: emigration is easy and is used as a method of shaping the population mindset. Anyone who is not OK with the country's development is encouraged to clear off.

Fast forward 2020s: Russian population is hardlined, few are willing to deal with (widely advertised and exaggerated by the Russian propaganda) cultural differences with the west. E.g. the average Russian is scared to hell of the possibility to raise their kids in a country where a gay parade is even a remote possibility. Really rich people are almost exclusively regime's pets, those who are mildly wealthy (because of personal skills) are leaking out at a good rate, but it is OK for the regime because these are the most likely to oppose.

2022: General anxiety against Russians all over "the West", i.e. the World. Russians overwhelming the migration administrations. Ukrainians (who are indistinguishable from Russians for the average Western citizen) do the same. Democratic societies are pressing their elected officials to limit the incoming Russians, dictatorships see them as a risk, too, those in the middle find their reasons not to like Russians as well. The bad publicity of the previous refugee waves (Syria, Afghanistan, Libya) also enhanced by the Russian trolling campaigns don't help either.

  • the average Russian is scared to hell of the possibility to raise their kids in a country where a gay parade is even a remote possibility — citation needed, please.
    – gerrit
    Aug 17, 2022 at 8:11
  • Democratic societies are pressing their elected officials to limit the incoming Russians — here too, citation needed. I've seen plenty of positive attitudes to people wanting to get away from the Putin regime.
    – gerrit
    Aug 17, 2022 at 8:13

When you think about Russia, keep in mind that even the most obvious intuition could be wrong. Actually, Russian government was never interested to keep the most skilled in the country. Why? Because these people are the most "problematic": their life principles do not decompose into basic pieces, which could be played on on the TV. A good education, especially foreign-standard education, makes one immune to populist tricks. That's why the skilled people are "poisoned" by the West, and their voluntary departure from Russia is actually most favorable since early 2000's. Those who remain would be much more easy-going.

  • Yeah, but how did you end up being basic? Only the means got more sophisticated. Aug 26, 2022 at 2:31

Here are the main methods that Russia uses to prevent emigration out of Russia:

  • Jail those who oppose the government policies to prevent their emigration.
  • Restrict hard currency cash withdrawals, to make it harder to transfer wealth abroad while emigrating for ordinary people.
  • Poisoning of selected people who do emigrate, with the intent to kill them and to intimidate others who plan to emigrate.


While the charge of calling for terrorism has been used broadly for years to target anti-government activists, the charge of discrediting the Russian armed forces is new. Days after the Ukraine war started, the Russian parliament updated the Criminal Code to include a series of new offenses related to Russian military activity.

More than 15,000 people have been detained across Russia since February 24 for anti-war demonstrations, according to the watchdog OVD-Info.

Anti-War Russians Face Fines, Jail, Psychiatric Confinement As Punishment. RFERL. June 19. https://www.rferl.org/a/anti-war-russians-face-fines-jail-psychiatric-punishment/31905194.html

Russia’s central bank will extend restrictions on cash withdrawals of foreign currency for Russians who collectively have around $85 billion parked in their bank accounts, governor Elvira Nabiullina said on Friday.

Russia limited foreign currency cash withdrawals to $10,000 in March in response to the United States and European Union banning the export of banknotes to Russia at a time when the rouble was floundering and Russians were flocking to get hold of hard currency.

Russia to extend restrictions on cash FX withdrawal. By Reuters staff. July 22, 2022: https://www.reuters.com/article/ukraine-crisis-russia-currency/russia-to-extend-restrictions-on-cash-fx-withdrawal-c-bank-idUSL8N2Z34WL

Alexander Litvinenko after poisoning by the Russians

Alexander Litvinenko in the intensive care unit of University College Hospital, London, on November 20, 2006. He died three days later. Photograph: Natasja Weitsz/Getty Images Contributor: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/19/alexander-litvinenko-the-man-who-solved-his-own-murder

Alexander Litvinenko was a member of the FSB (the successor to the KGB) who clashed with Putin’s government in Moscow after decrying widespread corruption, and was granted asylum to live in London.

But his flight to the U.K. did not put him beyond the long arm of Putin’s poisonous regime. [Litvinenko] was attacked at the Millennium hotel in central London in 2006 where his killers spiked his tea with polonium, an unstable, radioactive metal. [Litvinenko] died weeks later.

British authorities identified a pair of Russians they believed were responsible for the assassination, but Putin refused to permit their extradition to the U.K., denying any Russian involvement. One of the alleged attackers went on to serve in the Russian Duma.

Tim Dickinson: Did Putin Try to Poison a Peace Delegation in Ukraine? It Wouldn’t Be the First Time Russia Turned to Toxins. Rolling Stone, March 28, 2022: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/abramovich-ukrane-peace-negotiators-poisoned-timeline-1328838/

In 2018, another former Russian intelligence officer Sergey Skripal, was nearly fatally poisoned with a nerve agent in the English town of Salisbury. The poison, which was identified by British investigators as a nerve agent, known as "Novichok", developed by the Soviet Union as part of a secret chemical weapons program. Russia again denied responsibility, but U.K. police were able to track two men, who were later identified as officers in Russian military intelligence. Both men, Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin were found to have previously received Russia’s highest state honor, awarded personally by Putin.

Patrick Reevell. Before Navalny, a long history of Russian poisonings. ABC News. August 26. 2020: https://abcnews.go.com/International/navalny-long-history-russian-poisonings/story?id=72579648

  • 7
    Well it was the USA who prohibited moving hard cash into Russia, so the main method of emigration restriction is still "make the West do it for us". The other two points just don't scale that well to be a serious deterrent.
    – alamar
    Aug 16, 2022 at 17:29
  • 1
    @alamar: There is a ton of foreign currency moving into Russia despite the sanctions: reuters.com/business/energy/… . So hard cash availability is not a problem, it all Russian government's choice what to do with it. It chose to finance war crimes, and rob its citizens of their cash. Surprise! Aug 16, 2022 at 18:04
  • That's not hard cash, hard cash is bank notes: rbc.ru/politics/11/03/2022/622b78e49a794700a119ee90
    – alamar
    Aug 16, 2022 at 18:24
  • 4
    This seems to be an answer to "How does Putin take revenge on defectors?", which could be a good, but different question.
    – Therac
    Aug 16, 2022 at 18:47
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    I'm not sure what do you mean by that. If you had life savings before February 2022 you still have them now. You just can't buy dollar bank notes using those, since USA does not allow these bank notes to be imported.
    – alamar
    Aug 16, 2022 at 20:38

This question would be actual more then 30 years ago when Russia was called USSR and leaving the country was more or les imposible. The reason for that restrictions was not so much what is called drain brain but the batle of ideologies. USSR has represented the communist ideology which it claimed to be the best one even "paradise on earth", but if people leaving that "paradise" it damage that claim. Modern Russia is not communistic any more so it doesn´t need to proove having the best ideology any more. Russia even claims to be a free and democratic country and preventing people from leaving the country would completly destroy this claim. Also it makes not much sence to prevent iloyal people from leaving the country as in the country they would just organize protests.


What are the means Russia uses to prevent emigration out of Russia?

Mostly common sense. In Russia some people ( who may be interested in emigration for political reasons) have property and some small income. If they emigrate,their income will not be enough and they will be forced to get a job. When we think about the main arguments against communism,it's all about "no property" and "mandatory employment". So for Russians with small income,the only way to avoid those evils is to stay in Russia.

Too bad if they have to renounce their freedom of speech in this scenario.

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