Putin Promises ‘Decisive’ Protection for Ethnic Russians Abroad

(Bloomberg) -- Russia will do “everything” to protect its ethnic brethren living abroad from threats and persecution, President Vladimir Putin said.

The Kremlin has stepped up pledges to defend the rights of those it considers “compatriots” -- a broad category covering mainly ethnic Russians and speakers of the language living in other former Soviet states -- from official pressure. Protecting the “Russian World” became a major theme in the government’s defense of its 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine.

Speaking at an annual Kremlin-sponsored conference for “compatriots living abroad,” Putin said many Russians outside the country now feel “severe pressure” and are being harassed and treated as criminals. “We will protect your rights and interests decisively, using all available bilateral and multilateral mechanisms,” he said. He specifically cited Ukraine and the Baltic states as places where Russian culture was under pressure, an allegation governments there regularly deny.

Putin said he signed a new decree on immigration policy aimed at making it easier for compatriots who want to return to Russia to get work permits and citizenship. Some refugees from the regions in Eastern Ukraine hit with the separatist conflict have complained that they weren’t able to settle and get jobs in Russia, despite Kremlin promises of support.

About 800,000 people have moved to Russia since 2007 under a special program aimed at attracting compatriots, Putin said. In addition, about 10 million foreigners live in Russia as migrants.

Russia is facing a shrinking working-age population, a threat to its economic ambitions in the coming years. The new immigration policy says natural population growth is to be the main engine of growth, with immigration to be an auxiliary source of “people who can organically integrate into the system of positive social ties and become full-fledged members of Russian society.”

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