Russia has left behind pressure to take fugitive tech workers home.



RIGA, Latvia – The banker goes to work every day at noon – 8 o’clock in the morning in Moscow – from the rental in Southeast Asia, tropical green, warm and humid air and above all, a physical distance of more than 2,000 kilometers. From the nearest Russian military registration office.

The employer, Sberbank, thinks that he is at home in the Russian capital, flashing a reprogrammed router in the corner, which always assigns a Russian IP address to his laptop to deceive the corporate systems.

The banker, who is in his late 20s, is one of thousands of highly skilled workers seeking safe havens in response to the war in Ukraine, where Russia is trying to force its way home through various inducements and threats. There is an increasing focus on threats, including unauthorized remote work abroad.

“There have been cases where people have mistakenly logged into job applications with their real IP addresses and they have been found, so you have to be very careful,” said the banker, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid losing his job.

While the Kremlin seems happy to see dissidents, activists and journalists fleeing the country, the exodus of IT workers has become a major headache for top managers and officials as they struggle to fill key positions, maintain the economy and prevent security breaches. Companies that keep the country running despite the bite of Western sanctions.

For example, Sberbank is Russia’s largest financial institution, accounting for one-third of the country’s banking assets. It has been under sanctions by the United States and the European Union since President Vladimir Putin ordered the raid last year.

Russians leave Russia in times of war through historical persecution.

Earlier in the war, the focus was on incentives, including lower income tax and mortgage interest rates, which were offered to IT workers. But failing to stem the outflow, Putin’s military offensive in the fall has sent thousands more elderly people fleeing in panic to replenish depleted Russian forces in Ukraine.

Many haven’t told their employers they’re leaving, instead opting to continue the pandemic-work-from-home trend but across multiple time zones.

Now some of Russia’s top employers, such as Sberbank and other government-linked firms, are throwing a blanket ban on remote work abroad and threatening to fire workers who leave Russia.

Vkontakte, a Russian Facebook-like social network, recently banned all remote work abroad, leaving employees with more options to return or leave.

“VK is a Russian company,” the company said in an internal memo shared with Russian state media and independent outlets. “And our products are mostly tailored for the Russian market. It is important for us to be in the same context as our users and understand their needs.

Yandex, Russia’s answer to Google, has taken a softer approach. In May, a person close to Yandex said that the company is planning to create new foreign offices or expand existing ones to avoid a “brain drain” of high-skilled people.

Ten months later, thousands of Yandex employees have left the country in several waves of migration, and are working in new offices opened in the centers of the Russian diaspora, Serbia, Armenia and, most recently, Turkey.

Russian volunteers help Ukrainian refugees in wise and dangerous situations

Yandex was particularly shaken by Putin’s decision to start the war. As Western investors rushed to distance themselves from Russia, the IT giant’s market value fell almost overnight to $20 billion from less than $7 billion. The international projects face an uncertain future.

Yandex, once Russia’s biggest Internet success story, is now splitting its business into Russian and international entities to save some parts from bankruptcy. It also sold its homepage and news aggregator, which served as the main news source for tens of millions of Russians, to Kremlin-controlled VK following criticism of its censorship of war news.

For most of 2022, individual companies tried to avoid government pressure by enacting their own policies to retain workers. But recently the Russian government has indicated it may take matters into its own hands, although there is no consensus on what to do.

After Putin publicly branded defecting Russians “traitors” and “swindlers,” senior officials have taken a variety of retaliatory measures against “stateless” Russians, including stripping them of their citizenship, labeling them as foreign agents, or confiscating their property in Russia. Giving to the soldiers.

The debate over how to retain or repatriate IT talent has fueled a rift between Russian lawmakers and the Ministry of Digital Development, pitting Putin supporters against liberal-minded technocrats.

Senators such as Andrey Klishas, ​​who holds top positions at the Norilsk Nickel metallurgical and smelting company, proposed in December to introduce a “discomfortable presence abroad” law to penalize workers who work for domestic employers. Russia’s finance ministry has already announced plans to raise the income tax rate for workers abroad to 30 percent from 13 percent at home.

“Many of them have fled, but they continue to work remotely in Russian companies, so we will change the law in this regard and limit the schemes that allow people to work abroad and receive money from this,” said Klishas in an interview with Vedmosti. Russian business newspaper. Can we check if you pay all taxes? We can.” He added that Russia should impose a ban on remote outsourcing of “sentimental industries” to industries.

Talking to children who left Russia about the war in Ukraine

Andrei Isayev, a member of parliament from the ruling United Russia party, said workers in foreign countries could pose a security threat. “Let’s say people who work in transport companies, finance, banking, corporate correspondence, customer databases and so on,” said Isayev. “If you find them abroad, from unfriendly countries, we understand that our citizens may pay a high price.”

Russia considers the United States, Canada, Britain and the entire European Union and other “unfriendly” countries.

But ministry officials pushed back on the blanket ban, warning that such restrictions would only drive more IT workers away and leave Russian companies less competitive — unable to innovate or keep up with new technological developments.

“This will certainly encourage them to work in foreign companies and reduce their chances of returning to our country,” Russian Minister of Digital Development Maksut Shadaev recently told a government panel. Employees involved with state information systems in government contracts.

Clichés applauded, criticizing the “normal” ministry for not doing enough to prevent leaks.

Shadayev He estimates that by the end of 2022, 10 percent of Russian IT workers will have left the country; This figure seems low to some experts. “About 100,000 IT specialists are now outside our country,” said Shadayev. “At the same time, 80 percent of them continue to work for Russian companies in friendly countries.”

Shadav’s ministry urged the government to exempt IT specialists from military recruitment and advocated lower income tax rates. In November, the ministry revealed, according to Kommersant’s business daily, that it was working on a “reverse location” plan that would include suspending pre-paid flights home and away from military service.

“They need to understand that there is nothing to fear,” Shadayev said.

In interviews, however, Russian IT staff said that whatever path officials chose, the efforts would be futile.

“My lawyer told me [the military deferral] It’s a weak paper and if the registrar wants it, he’ll call you anyway,” said the Sberbank employee.

“It may come as a surprise, but when it comes to Sberbank, I understand that none of my colleagues support the war,” the employee added. “So I think it’s all pointless because it’s much easier for us to get a job in a foreign company than to come back at any time.

A software engineer who quit his job in Moscow and moved to the United Arab Emirates said there was only one course the Russian government could take: “The only thing they can do to bring us back is to stop the war.”


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