Frustrated by the war in Ukraine and suppression of the democratic opposition in Russia, many high-skilled citizens of the country are emigrating to other parts of Europe.
Oksana Bratislavskaya, a lawyer, lives in Russia with her husband, an IT expert. “We have always been foreigners here. They call us ‘Westernizers,’ ‘the fifth column,’ or ‘national traitors’—in Stalin’s and Hitler’s fashion,” she says. But it was the war in Ukraine that finally triggered the couple’s decision to leave Russia. “We were appalled by the scale of public support for the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in Ukraine. It is faster to hop on a plane and get to your Latvian seaside house than to fight through traffic to your countryside cottage outside Moscow on a Friday night,” she explained.
Many people like Bratislavskaya are now heading for European countries like Latvia, where they can acquire residence permits in exchange for investment in property. Other countries offering such deals include Poland, Hungary, Spain, Finland, and Greece.
Bratislavskaya’s family bought a house near the Latvian capital, Riga, for €105,000. Her house is a big improvement to her cramped flat in Moscow. The Soviet government gave one-bedroom apartments to families in the 1990s and they typically measured 40 square meters to 70 square meters and now cost between €180,000 and €300,000.
For many Russians, their savings are locked up in overpriced real estate. Before emigrating, they have to sell their apartments. According to Yana Mandrykina of Moscow’s Best Realty, the number of people selling their apartments to buy property abroad increased after the Russian government suppressed the anti-Putin protests in 2012.
The number of panic sales by people wanting to emigrate increased by five times between January and August this year, says Mandrykina. In Moscow this trend is the largest, and other Russian cities are also catching up. Many professionals like architects, journalists, surgeons, bankers, and advertising executives have been selling their property in Moscow and heading abroad.
This year Alexei, a public-relations executive invested €370,000 in a Latvian property. This amount included his family’s life savings plus a big loan. “I was quite unsure at the time. But now I am feeling that I was absolutely right. I don’t mind defending my motherland against aggression, but I am not prepared to sacrifice my life for the insane ambitions of one man,” says Alexei.
In Latvia on the other hand, there was pressure from the local right-wing to limit the immigration of foreigners, which led Latvia to raise the minimum investment requirement for residency permits from €142,000 to €250,000.
Residency applications under Latvia’s investor law increased by 70% in the first eight months of 2014, from the same period in 2013, according to data by Schengen Property in Riga. By July 1, more than 13,800 people had qualified for residency under this program. Of these, 9,650 were Russians, followed by Chinese and Ukrainians. As per data from Ministry of Interior, such residents have invested more than €1.1 billion in Latvia.
The minimum investment requirement in Latvia may come down if the moderates manage to defeat the more nationalist parties in the ongoing elections.