Anti-migrant, but not nationalist: Pursuing statist legitimacy through immigration discourse and policy

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Putin's return for a third term as president brought with it a period of active development of increasingly securitized migration policy. Reforms to registration and work permit procedures, the introduction of language exams for labor migrants, and increasing control over migrant entry have increased the bureaucratic burden on migrants and criminal liability for violations. While these policies can easily be framed as anti-migrant, do they reflect an increasingly overt nationalist campaign directed by the Kremlin?

This paper analyzes three common migration myths as a framework for evaluating the nationalist content of the Kremlin’s rhetoric. Slogans claiming migrants take jobs, they are culturally incompatible with the host society, and they are a threat to security are played up in the media and by some politicians as populist rhetoric. And while these myths are consistent on some level with public opinion as shown through the NEORUSS survey results, they are not actively utilized by the Kremlin. Rather, Putin focuses on a technocratic migration discourse that draws on the dominant statist legitimation strategies of portraying a strong and prosperous state.

In the three migration myths assessed in this chapter, Putin eschews a populist course and instead pursues a migration discourse that looks to utilize migration to the benefit of the state. Economically, migrants are framed as a tool of development rather than a threat to the labor market, taking jobs away from the native workforce. Culturally, migrants are not framed as incompatible as there is always the possibility that migrants can integrate into Russian society if they are willing. In terms of security, the goal is always law and order, furthering the strong state discourse that has marked Putin’s strategy throughout his presidential terms.

By showing the Kremlin is not actively fomenting nationalist sentiment through anti-migration rhetoric, this chapter finds counter-evidence for the new nationalist turn in Russia. Though the Kremlin is more active in addressing (rather than avoiding) issues of national identity, including immigration, the discourse remains firmly statist rather than promoting an ethnic agenda. These findings are surprising not only given the arguments in the first volume of this study, but also considering the populist and anti-migrant swing throughout the Western world, which show that immigration is often the easiest target for provoking political allegiance through nationalist sentiment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Russia Before and After Crimea
Subtitle of host publicationNationalism and Identity, 2010–17
Editors Pål Kolstø, Helge Blakkisrud
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781474433884, 9781474433877
ISBN (Print)9781474433853
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventNation-building and nationalism in today’s Russia - Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia
Duration: Apr 28 2016Apr 29 2016


ConferenceNation-building and nationalism in today’s Russia
Internet address


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