Staunton, October 5 – Mortality rates have gone up in more than a third of all subjects of the Russian Federation over the last two years, driving life expectancy figures down significantly. In Pskov oblast, the worst case, residents can expect to live only to about 50, with men far below that, according to the independent Health Monitoring Foundation.
As a result, according to TASS reporter Adelaida Sigida, the number of deaths in Russia as a whole exceeded the number of births by 1.3 percent in August of this year, with the prospects that the situation will continue to deteriorate in predominantly ethnic regions for some time to come (mirnov.ru/obshchestvo/regiony-gde-dolgo-ne-zhivut.html).
In the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus republics of Daghestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, the journalist reports, mortality rates are 2.5 times lower than in the Russian Federation as a whole where the figure is approximately 12.5 deaths for every 1,000 residents per year.
Residents in the wealthier oil and gas areas, the Yamalo-Nenets District and the Republic of Sakha, death rates are also lower than they are for the country as a whole. In Moscow, the situation is better but mortality rates there are still higher than in the North. And the situation in Moscow oblast is marginally worse than in the city proper.
The all-Russian figure of 12.5 deaths per 1,000 population is 4.8 percent above what the government says it should be, according to Eduard Gavrilov, head of the Health Development Foundation. In fact, he says, mortality rates are above what Moscow says should be the norm in 61 of the 83 subjects of the federation.
The health care expert says that the Russian health ministry is doing all it can to play down or even ignore these figures because they call into question the assertions of Vladimir Putin and other senior leaders. In the future, the situation is likely to be worse: doctors are no longer being taught statistical techniques – and they are responsible for gathering the numbers.
Although Pskov oblast has the lowest life expectancy in Russia now, other regions have seen their situation deteriorate faster in the last several years. Mortality rates in Karelia have jumped by 5.3 percent, with significant increases also found in Moscow, Transbaikal kray, and Novgorod oblast.
“The first jump in mortality after a decade of ‘stability’ was registered in the summer of 2015,” Sigida writes, and involved a rise of 3.7 percent over the year before.” That prompted Putin and the health ministry to insist that this was a victory: Russians were living longer and there the older population had more deaths. But statistics don’t show that.
The TASS journalist adds that according to Rosstat, the population of Russia has increased by 0.1 percent so far this year. But this is the result of immigration, not domestic change. Marriages are declining in number, but the number of migrants coming into Russia has gone up, covering the domestic population’s decline.
For the first seven months of this year, 329,700 people from abroad took up permanent residence while 169,700 left, for a positive figure of 160,000. Russia received “the greatest help” in solving its demographic problems from Ukraine, with 109,000 Ukrainians coming to Russia while only 30,000 Ukrainians left it during that period.
Given the long-term consequences of these demographic trends, Russian officials are struggling to find solutions. Many are pushing for a ban on abortions, confident that Russian women, unlike their sisters in Poland and elsewhere, will not protest if Moscow imposes one (profile.ru/obsch/item/111253-abort).
Others are urging officials to back second marriages, officially registered or not, as a way to boost the birthrate (iq.hse.ru/news/191896580.html). And the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has called for reducing the age at which women can marry legally to 14 (mk.ru/social/2016/10/03/chaplin-predlozhil-snizit-brachnyy-vozrast-v-rossii-do-14-let.html).
But what no one near the Kremlin is talking about is taking steps to improve health care, something that might actually address the country’s demographic disaster. Instead, Putin is shifting ever more money away from that to the military (themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-to-increase-military-spending-whilst-slashing-budget-55583).