Desperate Putin tries to claw back Russian workers as country faces dire exodus

Zelensky sends message to Merkel over ’concessions’ to Russia

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Putin’s government is studying what extra incentives it needs to offer highly skilled Russian expatriates to persuade them to return home, the Industry and Trade Ministry said on Monday.

Russia has a reputation for producing world-class engineers and other technical specialists, but has for years been trying to counter an exodus of its brightest scientists.

Moreover, Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, which began on February 24, has prompted thousands of Russians who oppose the conflict and want to avoid seeing their living standards slip under Western sanctions to leave the country.

Alexander Sergeyev, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke last week of a large brain drain under Western sanctions – imposed in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and significantly toughened since February.

Russia has had a repatriation programme for skilled workers since 2007.

“The further development of this programme and additional benefits to attract highly qualified Russian specialists from different spheres is being discussed,” the ministry said, without elaborating on what the benefits might be.

The current programme includes compensation for the cost of moving, six months of unemployment benefits and other financial incentives, the ministry said.

Izvestia, a pro-Kremlin newspaper, cited sources close to the government as saying that specialists were showing interest in returning to Russia because they faced pressure in Western countries over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

Russia has sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in what it calls a special operation to degrade its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and root out people it calls dangerous nationalists.

Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw.

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Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday they were investigating possible crimes by Russian forces after finding hundreds of bodies strewn around towns outside the capital Kyiv after the Russian withdrawal from the area.

The Kremlin said on Monday it categorically denied any accusations related to the murder of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and said Ukrainian allegations on the matter should be treated with doubt.

“This information must be seriously questioned,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

“From what we have seen, our experts have identified signs of video falsification and other fakes.”

Peskov said that the facts and chronology of the events in Bucha did not support Ukraine’s version of events and urged international leaders not to rush to judgment.

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“We categorically deny any accusations,” said Peskov.

“The situation is undoubtedly serious and we would ask that many international leaders not rush with their statements, not rush with their baseless accusations, request information from different sources, and at least listen to our explanations.”

Peskov said that Russia’s diplomats would press on with their efforts to convene a UN Security Council meeting to discuss what Moscow has called “Ukrainian provocations” in Bucha despite their first effort to arrange such a meeting being blocked.

“The initiative itself of raising this topic to the platform of the UN Security Council suggests that Russia wants and demands that this topic be raised at the international level,” Peskov said.

Peskov declined to comment on whether the furore over Bucha would affect peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv, which had been set to resume via video conference on Monday.

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