People are leaving Russia.
That’s not disinformation. It’s not fake news. It’s not a Western campaign to demonize the Russian Federation and its leadership.
It is simply the truth.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported this week asylum applications by Russian citizens in the United States hit a 24-year high in 2017, jumping nearly 40 percent from the previous year and continuing an upward march that began after Vladimir Putin began his second run as president in 2012.
I personally have met many Russian asylum-seekers who have started the process. The reasons are varied. Fears about their businesses being confiscated; being gay or HIV-positive; bad memories of political persecution; and refusing to pay bribes are among the reasons often cited.
The trend will only escalate as the Kremlin intensifies its crackdown on the internet and privacy. Private communications on encrypted apps have long been used by Russians to talk with others amongst themselves and with friends around the world. The Russian-developed app Telegram has been the favored instrument in recent years, famous for the strength of its privacy protocols. The recent ban of this popular tool has created quite an unexpected firestorm across Russia.
The Kremlin is in denial. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response to the report on Russians leaving in droves for other lands, “We do not know how true [these statistics] are.”
He added, “In the sea of falsehoods one should be very cautious about interpreting any such figures. It is hardly possible to trust them off-hand.”
It’s not just oppression and insecurity that are driving Russians away from their beloved homeland. Many are worried about getting a good education for their children, unencumbered by Kremlin propaganda. Many fear their personal savings are being stolen, or their businesses could be “appropriated” by false criminal charges, a favored tactic of abusive officials.
Some Russians are convinced the only way to save their country is to stay and fight. But too many just don’t have the stomach or bravery to take on the Kremlin and the state. So they just leave.
Mr. Putin has endeavored to diversify the Russian economy away from a reliance on oil and gas. He has had some fitful successes, but sooner or later, any promising Russian entrepreneur runs into a wall of state and oligarchic resistance. Someone more wealthy than you may want your idea, the business you have built, or other assets. So they take them. It’s that simple.
The one thing a vibrant market economy needs to produce real growth and entrepreneurship is the rule of law. Unfortunately, that does not exist in Russia. In Russia, might makes right and wealth equals power. Until this changes, no amount of funding or government support will change things.
So the best and the brightest, those who have traveled and seen the world, those who have the best ideas and want them to pursue them, just leave Russia.
As we watch the vicious battle unfold daily in the U.S. between the deep-state Left and our duly-elected president, Americans would be wise to keep an eye on what is happening in Russia. It could easily happen here.
Federal agencies out of control, the abuse of tax laws to go after political rivals, the refusal to accept the results of democratic elections and the search for imaginary scapegoats — such things aren’t limited to Russia. They have happened here.
American trust in their government has been shattered. At some point, Americans may also have to decide: Do I leave or fight for my country?
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.