Friday, December 14, 2012

Window on Eurasia: 46 Federal Subjects with Ethnic Russian Majorities in Demographic Decline

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 14 – Forty-six federal subjects with ethnic Russian majorities, including three republics – Adygeya, Karelia and Mordvinia – where the titular nationality is in the minority are in demographic decline because their populations have fewer births than deaths, according to a Tula lawmaker.

            That and the declining number of ethnic Russians in the prime child-bearing age cohort make it critical, Vladimir Timakov of the Tula City Duma argues, that Moscow provide funds to these and other predominantly ethnic Russian areas in order to fulfill President Vladimir Putin’s call for Russian parents to have three children lest the ethnic balance shift against them further (

            And both the current situation of ethnic Russians and their future demographic behavior may be even worse than those figures suggest, according to Timakov and other writers this week.  On the one hand, many Russian areas show a net increase of births over deaths only because of the behavior of Central Asian immigrants.

            And on the other, some Russian officials are employing various means, including changing the borders of megalopolises like Moscow, in order to be able to claim that the share of ethnic Russians in their population has remained the same or making claims that cannot be checked because Moscow has not published certain kinds of data sets in this area since 2007.

            In his article which was posted online today, Timakov suggests that Putin’s pronouncement is “very timely” because “Russia stands on the brink of a negative shift in the structure of the population,” one driven by low birthrates in the 1990s that mean ever fewer women in the prime child-bearing age groups for the next decade or more.

            Consequently, if Russians continue to have two children or less – and that is now the norm, Timakov says, they will suffer further demographic decline because the number of available mothers is falling and falling fast, from 25 million in 2010 to 21 million in 2020 and 17 million in 2030.

            “The demographic rebirth” of the country in the first decade of this century that Moscow has celebrated “occurred on the basis of a stable number of the maternal generation and almost exclusively as a result of the shift of family priorities from one-child families to two-child ones,” Timakov says.

            And the fact that Russians have a lower fertility rate than many non-Russian groups in the country means that Moscow must focus its attention to Russian regions. Timakov draws an analogy with the North Caucasus: “If the Caucasus receives priority budgetary assistance as a socially depressed region, then central Russian should receive priority assistance as a zone of demographic depression.”
            There are a few exceptions to this general pattern of deaths exceeding births among Russians, Timakov says. TAhere is “a positive demographic balance in Siberia, with the exceptin of Kemerovo, in the North and in the Urals with the exception of Kurgan, and also in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

             But as other analysts have pointed out this week, the situation for the ethnic Russians is far more dire than Timakov’s figures suggest.  In an article posted on the portal today, Yuri Nersesov points out that Central Asian immigrants to Moscow and other major cities help boost the regional numbers (

            Once the migrants officially register with the city authorities, any births and deaths among them are ascribed to the region as a whole. That is entirely appropriate, but in the absence of ethnically arrayed fertility data, something the Putin regime has suppressed, such inclusion allows officials to claim that the ethnic Russians are doing better than they are.

            And V.D. Kuznechevsky, a senior scholar at the Moscow Center of Humanitarian Research, says that officials in Moscow have adopted yet another strategy to ensure that their claims that ethnic Russians are maintaining their share of the city’s population remain plausible (

In a major review of the state of “the nationality question” in the Russian capital, Kuznechevsky notes that the city administration has expanded the borders of the city in ways that include territories with a greater share of ethnic Russians than the city as a whole, thus boosting the share of Russians overall.

Meanwhile, Enver Kisriyev, a senior scholar on the Caucasus at the Russian Academy of Sciences Center of Civilizational and Regional Research, points to another part of the demographic equation that Putin and most Moscow commentators this week have chosen to ignore: super high mortality rates among ethnic Russian men.

Kisriyev told journalists last week that mortality rates among the non-Russian nationalities are significantly lower than those among ethnic Russians elsewhere in the country, something that further tips the balance and an issue that the Kremlin does not appear to be focused on (

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