It is true, he acknowledges, that the depressed birthrates in the difficult 1990s are having an echo now because there are fewer women in prime child-bearing age cohorts. But if everything else were equal, Russia would not be experiencing the demographic problems that it clearly is.
Almost all of them have to do with the economy, Nikolayev argues. With incomes falling, people are putting off having children or not having them at all. With spending on medical care declining, more people are dying earlier than they otherwise would. And with the economy in a tailspin, fewer immigrants are coming to Russia to work.
If the powers that be find it difficult to recognize all this, he continues, then Russians need “to do it for them.” They can start by pointing out a fundamental error in the logic of those at the top of the political pyramid. People there believe that economic problems in the 1990s had a bad impact on demography, but they don’t admit that the same thing is true now.
Moreover, the Russian government acts as if demographic problems, be they boosting the birthrate, reducing mortality or attracting immigrants can be achieved by campaigns rather than by continuing and interconnected policies that are based on an understanding that what happens in one sector affects what happens in another.
If one reads the government’s strategy documents, Nikolayev argues, he or she will find many good things such as a commitment to rely on natural increases rather than immigrants for demographic growth. But almost immediately, the reader will discover that there is no clear roadmap and that the attention of officials to these issues is only occasional rather than constant.
Unless all that changes and unless the government admits to itself and to the Russian people that it bears responsibility for the current problems and will work to correct them, first by boosting economic growth to the extent it can and then by addressing specific demographic issues, the situation will only get worse.
And then 25 or 30 years from now, some future Russian government will blame the problems it faces – and they will be worse than the ones confronting the country now – entirely on the situation in 2018, thus continuing a vicious circle of government irresponsibility and demographic decline.