Sunday, May 20, 2018

UN Now Taking Russia’s Regional Diversity Seriously in Its Demographic Projections

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – A United Nations’ prediction this week that Russia’s total population will decline by 12 million by mid-century has attracted the most attention, but a far more important aspect of the UN study is that it discussed Russia’s demographic future in terms of its diverse regions rather than treating the country as a whole.

            That approach contrasts sharply with the one the United Nations, Russian analysts and many outside observers employ in which Russia like other countries is treated as a single whole rather than as one where demographic developments and problems in some regions are very different from those in others. 

            The UN study notes first of all that Russia’s cities are going to continue to grow, albeit by only three million people before 2050, with the number of Russians living in urban centers rising from 107 million now to 110 million by mid-century (

                Rural Russia in contrast is going to see its population fall by “almost 40 percent,” the UN report says, from 36.8 million now to 22.1 million in 2015. Urbanization is characteristic of most countries, the UN says; but in Russia, this process is exacerbated by the decline in the number of women in prime child-bearing cohorts and a fall in preferred family size.

            GDP per capita rates also vary widely across Russia, from European levels in the central cities, to those of Bhutan, Honduras or Papua New Guinea in Tyva. Indeed, the report suggests that large segments of the Russian Federation now have a standard of living corresponding to that of third world countries.

            The results are inevitable: the population of Murmansk Oblast has fallen by 34 percent since 1989, Sakhalin Oblast by 31 percent, and by more than 25 percent in Arkhangelsk, Pskov, Amur and Kirov Oblasts, all predominantly ethnic Russian regions.  Infant mortality in such regions is also far higher than elsewhere.

            The UN predictions, Tatyana Malyeva of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service are “close to the real situation” as reported by the Russian state statistical agency which acknowledges that Russia’s population after a brief uptick has begun to fall again, with births falling in 84 subjects, and deaths exceeding births in 17 regions by more than 50 percent. 

            What makes the UN report significant is that when an international body approaches Russia not as a single whole but as a conglomerate of very different parts, it makes it easier for many both in Russia and in the West to take the diversity within Russia more seriously and focus attention on how Moscow is or is not promoting equality.

            And that in turn, as was the case at the end of Soviet times, has the effect of making it easier for people in Moscow and the West to appreciate and take seriously the complaints and programs of regional elites, experts and political movements rather than as often happens now treating the Russian Federation as a single homogenous thing. 

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