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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Extends a Hand to Compatriots

ReutersPutin, flanked by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking Tuesday to the Congress of Compatriots in St. Petersburg.
The government will spend 4.6 billion rubles ($240 million) next year to lure home ethnic Russians and other Russian speakers who currently live abroad, President Vladimir Putin told the Congress of Compatriots in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

"We understand that the overwhelming majority of Russian speakers abroad ended up there against their will," Putin said, referring to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The president pledged "full support for those who decide to move to Russia," Interfax reported.

The Foreign Ministry estimates that some 30 million ethnic Russians live abroad, two-thirds of them in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

In June, Putin unveiled a federal program to attract Russian-speaking workers in an attempt to address the country's demographic crisis. As part of the program, 12 regions most in need of skilled workers will begin providing accommodation to Russian-speaking immigrants, Putin said.

Officials hope the program, which includes a fast-track naturalization procedure, will draw 300,000 workers by 2009, Konstantin Romadanovsky, director of the Federal Migration Service, told the congress on Tuesday, Interfax reported. A total of 6 billion rubles ($223 million) will be spent on the program.

The program avoids specific references to ethnicity. It defines "compatriots" as people "raised in the traditions of Russian culture, who speak Russian and do not want to lose their ties to Russia."

Romadanovsky, whose agency is in charge of implementing the program, said offices had been opened in Armenia, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan to promote immigration and process applications. Residents of Ukraine and the Central Asian countries have shown the most interest so far.

The program divides the regions into three groups. The first includes "border regions of strategic importance," which will offer the greatest financial incentives to immigrants. The second group consists of regions with strong economies and labor shortages. Immigrants to these regions would not be eligible for unemployment benefits. The same condition applies to the third group -- regions with a sharply declining population.

The government also plans to provide support to Russian speakers who choose to remain abroad. A new program will provide legal assistance, medical care for war veterans, and promote the teaching of Russian. In 2007, the government will spend 342 million rubles ($12.7 million) on this program.

The second Congress of Compatriots drew nearly 600 participants from 80 countries, Interfax reported. The first congress was held in 2001.