Staunton, June 14 – Vladimir Putin told Oliver Stone that Russia has “overcome” the contraction in the numbers of ethnic Russians (nazaccent.ru/content/24374-putin-rossiya-preodolela-sokrashenie-etnicheskih-russkih.html). But that statement isn’t true, and officials are debating whether Moscow can boost birthrates and cut mortality rates among Russians.
The Kremlin leader said that “for the third year in a row, “there has been “a natural growth of the population, including in regions with primarily ethnic Russian population,” a statement that Russian demographers have called into question. (For recent reports on this, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/02/non-russian-republics-have-best.html).
(In the same interview, Putin made two other statements, problematic if not in fact false. On the one hand, he said Russia, unlike Western countries, doesn’t have a problem with immigrants of “a different religion,” despite all the problems it does have with Central Asian gastarbeiters. And on the other, he said that Christians and Muslims in Russia identify as Russians and therefore “we will be able to overcome all sensitive” religious and ethnic issues, again despite all the evidence of problems in both areas.)
But perhaps the best evidence of Putin’s dishonesty on demographic issues is provided by an article in Vedomosti today which calls attention to a major policy fight over how best to stimulate the birthrate in Russia (vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2017/06/14/694222-stimulirovat-rozhdaemost).
“With regard to the fall of births,” journalists Margarita Panchenkova and Tatyana Domskaya report, “the social block of the government is proposing a package of measures to stimulate it.” All existing measures would be maintained and extended further into the future, and new ones would be added.
Such things would be very expensive and the finance ministry is resisting, calling for shortening the planned extension of maternal capital payments and not taking other steps. In addition to its arguments based on the availability of money, the finance ministry people stress that Russia is now in a demographic “hole” much like the one it was in during the 1990s.
“After the baby boom of the 2000s,” the journalists continue, “the number of births began to fall,” with 10.1 percent fewer Russian citizens born in the first quarter of 2017 than in the same period of a year earlier. It is the waves of the number of women in prime childbearing cohorts that is most important, some experts say, not any government program.
The finance ministry is prepared to extend some existing programs in maternal capital on two conditions: it will be paid “only in regions where births are lower than the average for Russia and in regions with natural outmigration,” and setting a maximum income for those receiving benefits. The article doesn’t say but these steps would mean significant shift of resources away from predominantly Russian ones to predominantly Muslim ones.
The social block of the government also wants to promote programs that will lower the age of first births, but experts say that “there is a risk that a woman who before 25 is not able to receive an education and acquire a profession, will leave the labor market,” something that would hurt the economy by “sharpening the problem of the deficit of workers.”
Another factor pushing down birthrates is the worldwide trend toward smaller families, but a more immediate one for Russia is the dramatic decline in the economy and the increase in poverty and fears about the future. If Moscow really wants to address the birthrate, it must focus on these issues, something the Kremlin shows no interest in doing.
Appended to the article is a chart showing projected declines in the birthrate and overall population of Russia and increases in the death rate over the next several decades, all figures that most Russian experts accept as true even if Putin says something else to an American interviewer and expects to be believed.