In 1989, half of the Soviet Union's total population lived in
Ukraine and Kazakhstan held the majority of the Russian diaspora.
The territory of Ukraine has had a strong Russian presence within
its borders since the 18th century. Kazakhstan had received many
Russian citizens in the first half of the 20th century as the
Soviet Union moved its industries south - away from the western
threat and closer to the coal, gas, and oil deposits of Central
But despite Ukraine's size, Kazakhstan contributed the vast
majority of Russian immigrants returning to their homeland.
When looking at the net percentage of Russians that left per
country, we see that in all but 2 nations, more Russians decided
to stay than go to back Russia. Between 1989 and 2002, only about
12% of the entire Russian diaspora decided to return.
Despite net diaspora movement into Russia, however, its population
has been declining by 0.5% annually after peaking in 1992. Two
factors contributed most to this.
First, Russia's birth rates plummeted just as its mortality rates
spiked. When the Soviet government fell, the Russian mafia, which
had struggled to survive during the height of communism, stepped
in to fill the power void. Crime and corruption increased in the
Russian government just as public infrastructure failed.
Second, as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, it triggered mass
immigration to the west from all FSU countries.
Net migration to the far abroad between 1995 and 2002 consisted of
3 groups: Germans, Russians, and Jews traveling to Germany,
Israel, and the United States.
In Germany, migration consisted of of Soviet Germans attracted by
the strong German economy and a generous resettlement package.
Article 116 of Germany's Basic Law, provided individuals of German
heritage with the right of return to Germany.
The Aussiedler (cultural Germans) were welcomed enthusiastically
as fellow German compatriots who would be a benefit to the
economy. Between 1989 and 2002 Germany received over two million
At the same time, Israel was welcoming Soviet Jewish migrants with
open arms. Jews were persecuted as a matter of policy by the
soviet regime. When the Iron Curtain came down, The 1990s
Post-Soviet aliyah began en mass.
Hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews moved to Israel, protected
under the “Law of Return” which stated that every Jew has the
right to come to the country as an immigrant. Today, roughly 18
percent of Israel's population is Russian speaking.
Previous to 1989 the United States was receiving almost as many
Soviet immigrants as Israel was. The United States had a policy of
treating Soviet Jewish Immigrants as refugees under the
Jewish citizens seeking to emigrate from the Soviet Union first
obtained Israeli visas, and then apply would to the United
States Embassy for refugee status and seek American citizenship
However, in 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev lifted restrictions on
emigration for Jews, and the United States stopped treating Soviet
Jews as refugees. The United States sought to limit the influx of
emigrants by imposing a ceiling of 50 thousand for the coming
years. Numbers of Soviet Jews going to the USA started dropping as
more went to Israel.
Still, The United States, with its large Jewish community, was an
important location for Soviet Immigrants and received over roughly
half a million Soviet immigrants.
In summary, far more of the Russian diaspora population decided to
assimilate than felt the need to return to Russia. As conditions
worsened after the collapse, masses of Soviet Immigrants fled the
the country and sought safety and economic stability abroad.
That said, the emigration boom from the former Soviet Union was
not actually as large as many experts had feared (up to 50
million). The reason was that few countries welcomed immigrants
from former Soviet states. The ones that did, Germany, Israel, and
the USA, did so primarily on ethnic basis.
The Soviet migration to these countries had varied levels of
impact. All three countries welcomed the highly skilled labor that
the immigrants had to offer. Most Russian Americans and Russian
Germans have assimilated and integrated well into society, though
many still consider themselves Russian. In Israel, it is hard to
understate the impact of the Soviet Jewish migration, where it
reshaped the country's demographics and politics.