Staunton, January 24 – Over the last 25 years, 71 percent of Russia’s 1100 cities lost population, almost one in five lost more than 25 percent of its residents, and 18 lost more than half of their residents, a clear indication that the dying out of Russia many have talked about is not confined to villages and rural areas.
That is the conclusion offered by three researchers at Russian Business Consulting in what they say is the first of a series of articles investigating changes in Russia’s urban landscape since 1989 that they will be publishing in the course of the coming weeks (daily.rbc.ru/special/society/22/01/2015/54c0fcaf9a7947a8f1dc4a7f).
There are currently 1128 cities in the Russian Federation, including both occupied Crimea and the administratively closed centers, and as of the beginning of this year, 69.5 percent of Russians, just over 100 million people live in them. Over the last 25 years, 60 places lost city status, but one -- Magas, the capital of Ingushetia -- was built from scratch and acquired it.
Between 1989 and 2014, there were 8.2 million more deaths than births in Russia’s cities, the study says, and the population would have sunk in far more of them had it not been compensated by the influx of migrants from the villages and other countries and the inclusion of additional territory and hence population in some cities.
Because of these factors, the researchers say, the urban population of Russia grew by 3.7 million over the period, but if one does not include administrative changes, then the growth in Russia’s cities over the last 25 years was only 0.9 percent.
The number of cities with populations less than 12,000 – which is one of the criteria for classifying a place as a city – increased from 157 to 246. Most of those should have been stripped of their urban status, but only nine were – and those two, Chekhov and Gornozavodsk in Sakhalin Oblast, were among the top ten population losers during the period.
Even slightly larger cities suffered declines, the RBK researchers say. Among cities with 50,000 or fewer residents, their combined population fell from 18.9 million to 16.7 million. “And these are official data,” the investigators say. “In reality, the situation could be still worse.”
Places in the far east and far north suffered the most while the cities with the greatest growth were either those in the North Caucasus, those in oil and gas processing regions, or Moscow. North Caucasus cities grew primarily as a result of greater births over deaths and migration from rural areas. Moscow grew because of migration from other regions and countries.
The population of St. Petersburg is dying out “more strongly than in Moscow,” but the losses of the northern capital were “largely compensated by migration and the inclusion within the borders of the city of neighboring municipal formations.”
Sixty-seven regions of the Russian Federation have seen a population decline since 1989, with most of the losers being in the predominantly ethnic Russian regions of the center of the country or in company towns where the industry closed. “By the end of the 1990s, Russian industry had contracted by 50 percent” from where it was in 1990, official statistics show.
The only oil and gas city that grew on its own without immigration was Shali in Chechnya, but its growth had less to do with the expansion of industry than with subsidies, given that four-fifths of its budget came from outside aid. “In other words,” the RBK writers says, “the city grew but it lives not on its own money.”
“Thanks to high prices for oil in the 2000s, the negative tendencies in the development of Russian cities slowed down,” but with the price of oil having declined, they suggest, these trends are likely to reassert themselves in the years ahead, especially flight from the smallest cities to the megalopolises. Ethnically Russian cities are likely to suffer the most, with the populations there aging as a result.