Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Three Troubling New Statistics from Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 25 – Three new statistics from the Russian Federation raise – one about orphans, a second about amnesties now as compared to Soviet times, and a third  about convictions for non-violent extremism -- some disturbing questions about the direction that country that country is proceeding.

            First, regarding orphans, Pavel Astakhov, presidential plenipotentiary for children, told “Rossiiskaya gazeta” that the number of orphan children in the Russian Federation had declined slightly from 2011 to 012 but that the number of orphans with one or more parents still alive had gone up (

            In 2011, he said, there were 654,000 orphans in the country. Last year, there were 11,000 fewer, a positive development especially given the restrictions Moscow has imposed on the adoption of Russian children by foreigners and the continuing reluctance of Russians to adopt children.

            But Astakhov reported another far more troubling trend. Five years ago, he said only some 74 percent of Russian orphans were children who had one or more living parents.  Now, 84 percent of them do, the result of a trend in which “mothers ever more often give up their newborns” to orphanages.

            That figure is especially disturbing because Russia, despite a decline in recent years, still has one of the highest rates of abortions relative to live births in the world.

            Second, regarding amnesties, Yevgeny Kovalenko of reports that the recent amnesty by the Russian government is far smaller both absolutely and relative to the size of the prison population than were Soviet amnesties in the late 1920s when Stalin already had a disproportionate influence on such issues (

            According to Kovalenko, in 1927, on the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, Moscow amnesties 58,000 people, almost a third of the prison population at that time. This year, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution,, the government freed only 25,000, approximately four percent of those serving time in Russian penal institutions.

            While any amnesty is welcome in the cases of those who have been illegitimately incarcerated as members of groups the powers that be do not approve of, the reality thus is that Vladimir Putin’s Russian government showed far less “mercy” this year than did Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime 86 years earlier.

            And third, according to data compiled by the SOVA Center, 20 Russian citizens are now incarcerated for extremist crimes that do not involve violence. While this is an improvement from the 33 that Moscow monitoring group found a year ago, it nonetheless calls attention to the ways in which the Putin regime is punishing people not for what they do but for what they think (

            Among the crimes for which the members of this category have been convicted are “expressions of lack of respect to society,” “denigration of human dignity,” and “public justification” of violence carried out by others for political ends. The site lists the names and “crimes” of each of the 20.

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