Monday, December 10, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Immigration Changing Russia’s Ethnic Balance Far Faster than Official Statistics Show, Demographers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – Neither the Russian census nor other statistics gathered by Moscow include large numbers of immigrants, Russian demographers say, and thus both understate the impact of the arrival of these groups and of their higher birthrates on the ethnic composition of the Russian Federation as a whole and on Russian cities in particular.

            On the basis of their personal observations, Russians believe that immigration is the most important factor in changing the ethnic composition of their country, Dmitry Bogoyavlensky says in an article on, but “the census does not confirm this view” and consequently officials often ignore it (

            But the census is inaccurate as are the records of government agencies about migration, the demographer continues. Both “unfortunately are incomplete and imprecise,” he says; and both feature a “significant” undercount of the immigrant communities now living in the Russian Federation.

            That can be demonstrated, he continues, by a close reading of the last three censuses, annual government reports on immigration, and by a consideration of certain government policies that obscure rather than highlight the impact of immigration on the ethnic mix of the country’s population.

            Judging from census data alone, Bogoyavlensky points out, the decline in the percentage of ethnic Russians in the population slowed between 2002 and 2010 as compared to the 1989-2002 intercensal period. But “the ethnic composition was considered only in 2003 to 2007.” After that, there are no data available on that subject even though it was between2007 and 2010 that many immigrants arrived.

            But a far larger problem is that the census simply missed counting the immigrants.  Officials claims on the basis of the census that the share of ethnic Russians in the capital actually rose from 88.4 percent in 2002 to 91.7 percent in 2010 “but a glancce around at the streets of Moscow suggests the exact opposite.”

            Between the 1989 and 2002 censuses, the  Armenians, Tajiks, Azebaijanis, Georgians, Koreans, Turks and Kurds were the nations who increased most rapidly in the Russian Federation. But between the 2002 and 2010 enumerations, the Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks grew the most.

            Thus, on the basis of the census reports alone, in the 1990s, the greatest immigrant flows were from the South Caucasus, but in the 2000s, these were from Central Asia, the result of changing political and economic situations in their homelands, the demographer says.  But immigration records “contradict” this picture from the census.

            They show that people from the South Caucasus do continue to come to Russia in larger numbers than the censuses show and that the number of people coming from Central Asia is also far larger as well, although in both cases there are almost certainly significant undercounts because of the difficulty of registering illegal immigrants.

             According to Bogoyavlensky, the censuses do provide some suggestive if not definitive information on the settlement patterns of the immigrant population.  Overwhelmingly, it is concentrated in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Moscow, Tyumen, Samara and Volgograd oblasts or in the industrial centers of the Urals and Siberia.
            Igor Beloborodov,, the director of the Moscow Institute of Demographic Research and the chief editor of the portal, suggests another way that immigrants are affecting the ethnic composition of the Russian population: their far higher fertility rates than those of the indigenous Russians (
            In Moscow alone at the present time, Beloborodov continues, immigrants are responsible for “about 30 percent of all births,” a share larger than their share of the population and one likely to rise as the number of ethnic Russian women in prime child-bearing age cohorts declines over the next decade.
            Consequently, any celebration of “growth” by Russian officials is inappropriate. Instead, the demographer says, they should be talking about “the displacement of one population by another.”  But officials are seldom in office long enough to have to live with their predictions and consequently they will say what they think their bosses want to hear and communicate.

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