Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Three Disturbing New Statistics from Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Every week, Russian officials and experts release a mass of new statistics about the situation in the Russian Federation. Most are anodyne and say little or nothing except when put in a larger context. But this week, three numbers were released that by themselves point to three disturbing trends likely to extend for some time into the future.

            First, the Levada Center released its latest poll on how Russians feel about the end of the USSR, a measure that independent sociological service has been taking annually for most of the last 20 years and one that provides an indication of the extent to which Russians have come to terms with 1991 or of their desire to change it (

            The latest survey taken at the end of December 2013 shows that 57 percent of Russians “regret” that the Soviet Union fell apart while only 30 percent did not. (The remainder found the question too difficult to answer).  Those numbers were eight percent more and six percent less respectively than the ones found a year ago.

            As in past surveys, older, less educated, and less well-off people were more inclined to express regret about the end of the USSR while younger, better educated and more well-off people were less inclined to do so, although only among the very youngest cohort was there a bare majority – 50 percent – who said they did not regret the end of the Soviet Union.

            The same Levada Center poll found that the percentage of Russians who believed that the demise of the USSR could have been prevented rose from 48 to 53 percent over the last year, while the number who believed its collapse was inevitable fell over the same period from 31 to 29 percent.

            At least in part, these numbers reflect the increasingly nationalistic and even imperialistic tone of President Vladimir Putin and his regime, a tone that has legitimated this form of nostalgia. But however that may be, such attitudes contribute to a sense of uncertainty and threat not only among Russia’s neighbors but in the Russian Federation itself.

            Second, as the date for the opening of the Sochi Olympiad approaches, Suleyman Uladiyev, the chairman of the Daghestan Civil Union, said that over the last15 years, as a result of military actions between Russian siloviki and the militants, “some 7,000 people had been killed” in that North Caucasus republic alone (

                That works out to more than a death a day from this ongoing conflict in one republic over that period, a reflection of the continuing high level of violence there and of the decision of the Russian authorities to use force rather than any other means to overcome it.

                Not only does this figure call into question Moscow’s claims that it is succeeding in pacifying the region and has the security situation in hand, but it also represents a literal bleeding of the Russian politics because among the victims are not just non-Russians from that region but ethnic Russians serving in the units of the force structures which are fighting there.

                That pattern helps to explain why many in the North Caucasus have concluded that they are not really part of the common Russian political space, a position that an increasing number of Russians share, but it also explains why some Russians, including many in the Kremlin, appear to believe that the killing must go on or even increase if the situation is ever to change.

                And third – and this may be the most disturbing of all – death rates among Russians between the ages of 15 and 34 are now eight times higher than in European countries. Every year, some 100,000 young Russians in that cohort die, compared to fewer than 15,000 for Europe as a whole, and of that number 70,000 die as a result of use of illegal drugs (

            These figures were announced yesterday by Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s Federal Anti-Narcotics Servicewho said that almost three quarters of these deaths were the result of the weakening of internal organs in such people as a result of “the regular use of drugs.” He added that at present some eight million Russians are drug dependent.

                Such deaths simultaneously deprive the country of what could be expected to be the most educated age cohort for the labor pool, reduce the number of children by removing from the scene many in the age group most likely to give birth, and further depress life expectancies for Russians as a whole.

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