Thursday, April 17, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Immigrants Will Form Half of Russian Federation’s Population in 2050, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – If current trends continue, half of the population of the Russian Federation in its current borders will consist of immigrants, according to a new Moscow study, a conclusion clearly intended to feed anti-immigrant feelings and, more speculatively, designed to promote a discussion of what can and should be done, including the changing of those borders.

            If half of the country’s population in 2050 does in fact consist of migrants, that country will have a Muslim majority, given the share of indigenous Muslim peoples already there.  On the one hand, that is a frightening prospect for many Orthodox Russians.  But on the other, especially in the current climate, it has more immediate foreign policy consequences.

            Were Moscow to annex the two Slavic republics, Ukraine and Belarus, the Russian Federation would retain a non-Muslim majority for far longer, but were it to absorb countries in the Caucasus or Central Asia as part of some restored empire, it would become a Muslim-majority state far sooner.

            The Moscow Institute of National Strategy, Vitaly Soletsky reports in yesterday’s “Novyye izvestiya,” has prepared a report which concludes that if current demographic trends continue, migrants and not indigenous nations, including the ethnic Russians, will form half of the population of the country (

            According to the authors of the report, the number of immigrants in Russia is approaching 30 million, an estimate given that various official sources give widely disparate numbers. But one thing on which all agree is that the ethnic composition of this group has changed from the 1990s.

            In the first decade after the disintegration of the USSR, most of the migrants were ethnic Russians or other Slavs.  Now, they are overwhelmingly Central Asians or people from the Southern Caucasus, groups which have lower levels of Russian language knowledge and which are more culturally distinct and, in the view of many, less adaptable to Russian conditions.

            Igor Beloborodov, one of the authors of the new study, says that it is entirely possible to predict that “by 2050, not less than half of the population of Russia will consist of immigrants,” given relatively low fertility rates among ethnic Russians and other nations indigenous to the Russian Federation. At a minimum, he adds, that will lead to more ethnic conflicts.
            Russian government officials recognize that the country will need more workers given low domestic fertility, Beloborodov says, but they believe that they can maintain the necessary size of the labor force by attracting ever more immigrants. Indeed, that is a provision of the government’s current concept paper on migration issues out to 2025.

            Igor Bogdanov, the director of the Center for the Sociology of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Social-Political Research, agrees with Beloborodov’s conclusions.  And he calls for Moscow to focus in particular on the influx of Chinese into Siberia and the Far East, of Caucasians and Central Asians in central Russia, and radical Muslims into the Middle Volga.

            The Academy of Sciences scholar says the Russian government could solve the problem by using laws already on the books, but it has chosen not to do so because of the current difficult economic situation. If migration were to be restricted, that would further depress production in a number of industries.

            “The recent inclusion of Crimea into the Russian Federation in one instant increased the population of the country by more than two million,” the “Novyye izvestiya” journalist notes. But the authors of the report say that this did not improve the country’s demographic situation, despite the hopes of some.

The possibility that border changes might have that effect, however, has been suggested by some of the leaders of Russia’s Muslim community. They note that the annexation of Crimea added at least 300,000 Muslims to the Russian umma. But because the percentage of Muslims in Ukraine’s Crimea was smaller than that of Muslims already in Russia, their share of the Russian population has in fact declined slightly (

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