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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MOSCOW MAILBAG: Listeners Hear Sucking Noise of Brain Drain




Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, many of my listeners have had their eye on the sometimes swelling number of people who have packed their bags and left the former Soviet Union - later Russia - for this or that land of opportunity.


One listener named William Kerr from Halifax, Canada - itself a hot spot for Russian immigrants - wrote me this week to inquire about whether this phenomenon is still in full swing and to get some figures on how many people leave here and where they go.


From the late '80s to early '90s, the greatest number of people emigrated to Israel and the United States. Half a million of them between 1987 and 1993. In 1999, 29,000 emigrated to Israel. In 1995 and 1996, 230,000 emigrated to the United States. Many others left for Germany, Canada and even China.


Among those leaving - as Kerr rightly noted - are many of Russia's top scientists, intellectuals, and other people whose brain work has been de-funded by Russia's rocky economics.


That cast some 2.5 million scientists adrift without jobs. But as to Kerr's question about whether Russia has suffered a brain drain, I have to tell you that only one-tenth of those displaced scientists wound up abroad. The other nine-tenths found applications for their talents in other areas within the country. Some 8% in business, banking and the economy. The rest, in areas too numerous to name, from repair shops to kiosks.


But that has not stopped science's endless tinkering with the Mir space station. One K. Groothand of Meppel, Holland, wanted to know how things were up there.


On Feb. 3, the freight vessel "Progress" docked with the Soviet-era Mir space station, which has been up in space for 14 years. It looked like Mir had come to its end and would have to be drowned in the waters of the Pacific. But no, it was decided to prolong the life of the space station because American investor Walt Anderson signed a contract to finance the upkeep and experiments on board Mir. The Russian government contributed its share. We got $20 million from Anderson. In March of this year, a crew of three will board Mir. The freight vessel delivered oxygen-based fuel and food. As a result, we can raise the orbit of the space station, which was steadily flying lower and lower toward its doom. The new "Progress" can carry 2,400 kilograms of freight, more than its predecessor. Mr. Anderson made his contribution because the experiments planned for the International Space Station, now under construction, could not be carried out because its docking system broke down. So they are using our Mir for the experiments.


Joe Adamov hosts the English-language "Moscow Mailbag" on the Voice of Russia.