Sunday, December 3, 2017

Russia’s Population Prospects Now So Dire that Scholar Calls for ‘a Cheka for Demographics’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 2 – In an open letter to Vladimir Putin, demographer Yury Krupnov says that the demographic situation in Russia is rapidly becoming so dire that the Kremlin can only reverse it be creating an Extraordinary Demographic Commission – or a Cheka for Demography.

            Krupnov says that he fully supports Putin’s call for doing more to promote Russia’s demographic well-being but says that he cannot “fully agree” that the Kremlin leader’s idea of providing funds to families on the birth of even their first child will be sufficient or even effective (

                Giving mothers 10,000 rubles (150 US dollars) a month after the birth of a child, he says, won’t lead more Russians to have more children and thus will “not save the country from a deepening demographic catastrophe,” one brought on Krupnov says by the failure of the government to act on Putin’s 2012 call for making three-child families the norm.

            Instead, he says, the Russian authorities have behaved in ways that make childless or only one-child families the norm for Russians.  To reverse that, Krupnov argues, the government should instead provide funds for those who have a third, fourth or fifth child in order to prompt people to have the first and second in order to get support for more later.

            According to Krupnov, who has long beaten the drums for larger families, Russia is rapidly “falling into a demographic hole which will be just as deep if not deeper than the hole of the end of the 1990s, when the expression, ‘the Russian cross,’ emerged.” 

            Krupnov says he fears that officials have been misleading Putin about just how bad things are and are likely to become.  As a result, the real horror of the situation is not just how serious things have become but rather the failure of the authorities to discuss it seriously and not engage in “ideological fantasies” about supposed improvements.

            “In this extraordinary situation,” he continues, “I consider it critically necessary to organize a serious, deep and open discussion of what demographic policy the country needs and via this to sharply push forward and deepen the understanding of the demographic problem as a priority for the country.”

            To that end, Krupnov suggests the formation of an Extraordinary Demographic Commission (CheDemKa) “which in the course of approximately a year” could come up with “an adequate complex of measures for the demographic salvation of the country.”  Such measures given the seriousness of the problem will necessarily be “extraordinary.”

            Today, Krupnov says, it should be obvious to all that “the main problem of the country is in demography” and thus is it is entirely appropriate to call for an Extraordinary Commission to address that problem.

                Putin’s speech earlier this week has led others to focus on just how bad the demographic situation in Russia now is, a situation in which the declining number of women in prime child-bearing ages is combining with changing family size preferences and the impact of the economic crisis to drive birthrates down.

            See for example the discussions of the problem at, and But three things about Krupnov’s letter are striking. First, he attacks the government in order to try to get Putin on his side, the latest of the good tsar-bad boyar view that l so much of Russian thinking.

            Second, by talking about a Cheka, he equates the demographic problem now to the threats to the Soviet state in its earliest days, an equation that will likely lead more people to focus on the demographic disaster that Russia is facing and that there are very few means the government has at its disposal to address.

            And third, and most important, by calling for a Cheka in this area, Krupnov has appealed to one of Putin’s core views on how to act: not by gradual effort but by extraordinary intervention, an approach that has its roots in the Soviet past but that continues to define his approach, however ineffective it is likely to be in this area as well as in many others. 

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