Monday, June 5, 2023

Russia on Course to Having Fewer Births in 2023 than in Any Post-Soviet Year, Raksha Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 4 – In April of this year, Russians gave birth to only 95,000 babies, less than in any earlier month in 2023 or an in month in 2022, according to independent demographer Aleksey Raksha who collected data from regional registration offices because the State Statistical Committee has stopped publishing this depressing data.

            According to him, Russians gave birth to 4.7 percent fewer children in April 2023 than in April 2022 and 14.2 percent fewer than in April 202. The latest monthly figure is the worse in some 24 years. In only November 1997 and the last three months of 1999 were births fewer (

            For the first four months of 2023, the number of children born was 3.4 percent fewer than during the corresponding period of 2022; and Raksha along with other demographers projects that the total number of births this year will be around 1.2 million, eight to ten percent fewer than a year earlier (

            Raksha says that these figures reflect a combination of the following factors: a decline in the number of Russian women in prime childbearing age groups, military mobilization, the flight of large numbers of young Russians abroad, and continuing declines in the income of the population, all of which have contributed to uncertainty about the future.

Anti-Putin Forces in Belgorod Must Drop Moscow-Centric Views and Adopt Regionalist Ones to Be Most Effective, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 5 – The anti-Putin forces now fighting in Belgorod say in various social media that they are there to create a renewed “united Russian nation state,” but “if the participants of these raids want any real changes, they should become regionalists” and seek to express the interests of the various Russian oblasts and republics, Vadim Shtepa says.

            The editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says that unless they break from the centralist mindset infecting both Putin and the opposition, “any ‘new Russia’ will become a remake of the former empire” ( in Estonian; in Russian).

            Not only will a shift from a Moscow-centric approach to a regionalist one allow the anti-Putin forces to tap into the feelings of the people of Belgorod, Shtepa argues; that will open the way for them to attract to their banners ever more people in ever more oblasts, krays, and republics of the absurdly misnamed “Russian Federation.”

            Belgorod is a territory with 1.5 million people; but because of Putin’s repressive approach, it has no political parties of its own, no free elections, and  a governor imposed on it by Putin. Moreover, Shtepa points out, “most of the taxes collected from the enterprises of the region go to Moscow.”

            “In reality,” he says, Belgorod is just “one of Moscow’s many colonies.” Speaking of the need to overcome that is the best way to win support there and elsewhere. If the Russian Volunteer Corps and Freedom of Russia Legion adopted that approach, “the results of their raids could become much more effective.”

            Up to now, the regionalist writer says, there haven’t been any reports of the insurgents linking up with the local population; and this in turn likely reflects the fact that people there do not view those taking part in these raids as “’their liberators.’” With a change in message, that could change as well as the people of Belgorod have everything to gain from that and little to lose.

            This does not mean that the insurgents should be promoting secession but rather true federalism. Some federal subjects will want to secede but many will want to have a new relationship with Moscow. Although Shtepa does not address this point here, he has made it clear elsewhere that it is important to keep that distinction in mind as well.

Drying Up of Rivers Threatens Survival of Russian State, Mishina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 3 – The dying of Russia’s smaller rivers and falling water levels in its largest ones not only undermines the health of the population and the ability of the economy to function but may threaten the survival of the Russian state itself given its dependence on water routes, Irina Mishina says.

            A decade ago, Russians talked about saving Russia’s rivers; but now they have joined the international chorus of experts who say falling water levels are irreversible and may lead to the demise of the country just as it has elsewhere, the Novyye izvestiya writer says (

            Many of Russia’s smaller rivers, 50 in Voronezh Oblast alone, and some of its largest ones have seen water levels fall. And the problem is now not restricted to the summer months but has become yeararound, even on the Volga, the critical north-south water route in the central and western parts of the country.

            Shipping is now restricted or even blocked, the health of the people along the rivers is deteriorating, and the country’s economy is suffering as a result, Moscow specialists report, according to Mishina. Unfortunately, neither the population nor the government seems to recognize the severity of the likely consequences.

            Unless that changes, Mishina writes, the view of many international specialists that the next world war will be caused by water shortages may be proved true, with Russia, despite its historical status as the country with the most fresh water, becoming the trigger for such a universal development.


Sunday, June 4, 2023

Moscow Likes to Say It has the Second Strongest Army in the World but It has Now Proven It has the Second Strongest One in Ukraine

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 3 – Vladimir Putin and his regime like to say that Russia has the second strongest army in the world, but many Russians now say that what he has managed to show in recent months is not that but rather that Russia has the second strongest army in the Republic of Ukraine.

            That is just one of the observations Russians are making about their country, its leaders and its wars that Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova has assembled and posted online ( Among the best of the rest which are most indicative of what they are thinking are the following:

·       Putin asked the head of Belgorod what he needed and the latter was just about to say that he needed more buses so that his people could leave “this new Ukraine.” But he got scared and said only that he would share the last of the existing buses out.

·       When Russians travel, they often leave inscriptions behind such as “there were tourists from Russia here.” But now they have become even more concise and just write “Z.”

·       Neighbors of those in a wealthy Moscow neighborhood whose houses were hit by drones have sent messages to the latter telling them to hand over Putin et al. or face the prospect that their neighbors will give them more precise addresses for targeting the next round.

·       Plans for an anti-war protest in Belgorod had to be scrapped after all those who planned to take part fled before it could start.

·       Senior Russian officials are surprised that the new Lada Vesta doesn’t have an automatic transmission. Soon, they will be even more surprised when they find there are no Ladas at all.

·       The Russian prime minister says that his country needs mathematicians and physicist but he didn’t say how to produce them under current Russian conditions.

·       Thanks to disorder in Belgorod, less well off people have been able to loot the stores there. In the past, only oligarchs and senior officials could risk carrying out such open robbery.

·       Moscow Mayor Sobyanin is afraid that the summer will bring a yellow sun and blue skies over his city. Lest the appearance of those Ukrainian colors appear, he has directed that special airplanes feed the clouds to ensure that only dark gloomy one will be over the Russian capital.

·       Russian officials are debating how to make the country’s defenses better, but they have neglected what is the best defense of all – don’t attack other countries and they won’t attack you.

·       For some reason, residents of countries whose presidents are nonentities who are changed off every four years like gloves, live much better than in a country where the president is in office for life and personally lives better than all the other residents combined.

Western Sanctions Affecting Not Only Russian Economy but Russian Environment, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 2 – The economic consequences of sanctions involving both the closing of Western plants in Russia and their replacement by Russian ones have been extensively covered; but a related consequence, the impact of these economic changes on the environment in the Russian Federation, has not.

            That is unfortunate because sanctions and import substitution have had the effect of leading to a serious and rapid decline in the quality of air and water in that country, according to Arina Vasilchuk, an investigative journalist for the Kedr.Media news agency (

            Russian factories involved in import substitution not surprisingly contaminate the environment in Russia far more than did factories in other countries whose production Moscow as able to purchase in the past. But that is far from the only way that the sanctions regime has had a negative impact on the environment in that county, experts say.

            Most of the equipment needed to ensure that factories don’t contaminate the surrounding air and water comes from the West. Now that Moscow can’t import such equipment, Russian firms are being allowed to put untreated wastes directly into the air and water, with consequent harm to the environment and the population.

            Russia’s modest plans for improving environmental protection have been reduced, delayed or cancelled altogether “in connection with the new economic realities,” according to the ministry for economic development; and there seems little likelihood that this trend will be reversed anytime soon.

            As a result, the air Russians breathe and the water they drink is increasingly contaminated. In the city of Nizhny Tagil, for example, residents are six to ten times more likely to have cancer than they would be if the city lived according to Russian environmental rules of the 2010s.

            There are a few cases in which the current standoff with the West has had positive environmental consequences. The most prominent of these concerns the decision to postpone the development of a broad gage rail line across the Russian North. Putin says it will be built, but the Russian government has been cutting its budget and making its completion unlikely.

            That will reduce the chance that Russian firms will despoil the north by mining and processing – and leave the country with cleaner air and water than would otherwise be the case.


Some Russians Fear a Putin Victory in Ukraine; Others, a Loss; but None Expects Any Positive Change Soon, Kuleshova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 2 – Russians are divided not only about Putin’s war in Ukraine but about the consequences of different outcomes for their country, Anna Kuleshova says. Some fear that if Putin wins, he will become even more repressive at home while others are convinced that if he loses, he will nonetheless survive and seek to track down and punish his opponents.

            The sociologist who heads the Social Researchers across Borders group stresse s that she and her colleagues have not heard from any of the Russians they have heard from any “optimistic predictions for the next five to ten years” (

            Instead, Russians in her sample increasingly mention their fears including the possibility that the conflict in Ukraine will lead to nuclear war or that Russian soldiers returning from the front will wreak havoc on Russian society. But almost everyone expressed concerns that whatever happens in Ukraine, more repressions are ahead for Russia.

            According to Kuleshova, Russians also fear a collapse in healthcare and especially in the availability of medications for chronic conditions, their inability to speak to anyone including close family members about the war lest they be denounced, and their uncertainty about what the future will hold for their children if the latter remain in Russia.

            Those she surveyed believe that only 20 to 30 percent of the population supports the war; but they can’t be sure because it is dangerous to talk about the war and many hide their opinions lest they land in trouble. Many say that they fear that anyone who brings up the war may be a provocateur intent on compromising them.

            But according to Kuleshova, “very few Russians who supported the war earlier have ceased to do so,” while the number who back it now has increased because ever more people seem to believe or at least say they believe the official propaganda in support of continuing the fight there.

Some Russian Regions Experiencing Economic Growth while Others Suffering Declines, Russian Central Bank Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 2 – Russian economic figures are usually given and discussed for the country as a whole; but for a country as large and diverse as the Russian Federation, that is a mistake because its regions vary widely, with some growing or declining more than others and with some growing while others are declining.

            This pattern is highlighted in the latest quarterly report on the Russian economy that has been prepared and issued by the Russian Central Bank ( The bank’s experts say the pattern reflects not only the underlying conditions of the Russian economy but also the differential impact of sanctions.

            According to the bank, for the first quarter of 2023, industrial production fell by 0.9 percent for Russia as a whole, but the regions varied widely on that. The Central Federal District experienced 4.7 percent growth, but the Northwestern FD saw a decline of 0.9 percent, the Siberian FD of 1.4 percent, the Urals FD of 1.6 percent, and the Far Eastern FD of 3.7 percent.

            In general, the bank reports that with regard to industrial production, things are better in the West than in the East; but as far as housing construction, retail trade, pay and incomes, the situation in the eastern part of the country is better than in the center and in its western federal districts.

            New housing fell almost 12 percent in the Russian Federation as a whole, while it grew in Siberia and the Far East; and real incomes fell at the center by two percent while they grew almost six percent in the Urals FD. As a result, the number of regions with governments in deficit rose to 50, more than half of all federal subjects.

            In summing up these figures, Nezavisimaya gazeta concluded that “those regions which have seen a stopping of the activities of foreign firms after the intensification of sanctions have suffered the most,” while those without such firms in the past have suffered far less and are even doing relatively well.