Thursday, March 19, 2015

Five Demographic Drivers in Russia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 19 – Demography is not destiny except perhaps in the long term, but demographic developments can represent serious constraints and direct challenges to any country’s political elites.  Moscow faces an increasing number of these, and five of them have been noted in the Russian media this week.


  • Russian Cities Dying; Muslim Cities Booming. Moscow routinely talks about demographic figures for the country as a whole because the differences between those predominantly ethnic Russian areas with low birthrates and high death rates and those predominantly Muslim areas with high birthrates and low death rates.  The Chechen city of Argun had the highest birthrate per 1000 in 2011-2013 of 46, a figure close to those in sub-Saharan Africa, and 16 times the rate in the Russian city of Trubchevsk in Bryansk oblast which had a birthrate of only 2.9 per 1,000. Conversely, predominantly Russian cities had death rates of above 50 per 1,000, equivalent to losses during the Mongol conquest and vastly higher than those in Muslim areas. As a result of this pattern, almost three-quarters of Russian Federation cities have seen their population decline, despite the “positive” numbers Moscow often cites (
  • Even Nations Losing Their Languages are Retaining Their Identities. Peoples who lose their national languages are generally assumed to be on the way to assimilation to the larger ones whose language they have accepted. But that may not always be the case.  Many of Russia’s Finno-Ugric nationalities are rapidly losing their languages, but many of their number who are no longer speaking their languages are nonetheless retaining their national identities. That does not mean that these peoples are not in trouble or that their languages should not be supported, but what it does mean is that there is a new category among such peoples who may prove a challenge to Moscow in the Russian: Non-Russians who speak only Russian but who continue to identify as members of their original nationality. That not only provides the basis for national revival but also creates a category of people who will have the skills to challenge the assimilating nation in new ways (
  • Are Fewer Gastarbeiters Coming to Russia or Not?  Konstantin Romodanovsky, the head of the Federal Migration Service, says that the decline in the number of people coming from Central Asia to work in Russia has stopped and that a significant portion of the earlier decline reflects better policing of the border rather than the Russian economic crisis Romodanovsky’s words are a reminder of how tricky Russian statistics on migration are: officials can count legal migrants but only estimate illegal ones, something that makes it difficult if not impossible there as elsewhere to know what the total of the two really is (
  • Ukrainians Form 40 Percent of 100,000 Compatriots Moving to Russia. Ninety-eight percent of the 100,000 people who returned to Russia last year under Moscow’s program for compatriots came from CIS countries, and 39.2 percent of the total came from Ukraine alone, according to the Federal Migration Service. Most of them settled in areas in and around Moscow and not in the more distant regions the center had hoped they would choose (
  • Needing Food, Moscow Lists More Farm Jobs as Alternative to Military Service.  As the prime draft-age cohort declines in size, the Russian government has drafted many people with physical and mental problems. But in the current situation, Moscow also faces the challenge of finding more young people to work in agriculture and produce food.  Its solution: the Russian government has now expanded the list of agricultural professions those who want to avoid military service can choose as an alternative. Among them is reindeer herding (

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