President Vladimir Putin rebuked his ministers on Monday for being too slow to implement the Kremlin’s latest campaign against what the government sees as excessive immigration.
Russia faces a demographic crisis caused by plunging life expectancy and falling birthrates but Putin has given mixed signals about immigration as a solution.
Last year Putin asked the government to help encourage controlled, legal immigration from former Soviet countries which shared Russia’s language and culture.
But the situation changed this month when Russia imposed sanctions on Georgia to punish the ex-Soviet state for briefly arresting four army officers on spying charges.
On Oct. 5, Putin ordered his government to purge criminal gangs with “ethnic flavour” from local markets because they threatened the “native population.”
Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, who attended Monday’s meeting, was quoted by agencies as saying there were 8-12 million immigrants in Russia but only 705,000 were legal.
Since the crisis broke out, a Moscow City Court issued expulsion orders for more than 600 Georgian nationals accused of breaking immigration laws, its spokeswoman said on Monday.
Rights activists have warned the Kremlin that although such moves could win it many votes in parliamentary and presidential polls in 2007-8, it would also give an official stamp of approval for growing racist sentiments in Russia.