Saturday, September 29, 2018

New Pension Law Likely to Provoke Russian Flight, Ethnic Conflict in Far North

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 28 – The final version of the new pension law leaves unchanged the current retirement ages for members of the numerically small peoples of the North while boosting them for ethnic Russians and others living there, deepening the divide between them, setting the stage for conflict, and provoking more Russian flight from the region.

            In the first draft of the measure, there was no such difference; but then Moscow agreed to retain the longstanding retirement ages for the numerically small peoples causing many Russians and others in the North to assume that they too would benefit. One poll said 93 percent of them had that view (

            But that is not the case, and now even more than in the past, there are two categories of Russian citizens in this region, the indigenous populations who have retained a more favored arrangement and the arrivals, many of them ethnic Russians who work for petroleum companies and other extraction industries, who do not.

            While the non-Russians view their retention of earlier retirement ages as a boon that reflects the difficulties of their lives, many ethnic Russians in the region are angry at Moscow for boosting theirs and for acting as if they don’t share many of the challenges that the numerically small peoples do ( and

            According to Duma deputy Oleg Shein, raising the pension age on those from outside the region while leaving it where it was for indigenous peoples will lead to an increase in the outflow of the latter from the region because many of those in this category become ill as they approach the existing pension age.

            That will have a number of consequences, some potentially very serious. First, it will mean that the share of the population the indigenous population occupies in these regions will increase even more rapidly than it has over the last 30 years, leading their leaders to demand more for the non-Russian peoples involved.

            (That trend may accelerate even more if as the experience of other countries applies: At least some Russians are likely to try to re-identify as non-Russians in the hopes of claiming the lower retirement age, much as some in the American West and in Alaska have sought to claim Indian heritage to gain access to resources and benefits.)

            Second, it will mean that Russian extraction industries will find it ever more difficult to operate and that production of oil and gas along with other natural resources may fall far faster than otherwise, pleasing non-Russians who object to the devastation of their lands but hurting Moscow’s incomes.

            And third, it almost certainly will spark conflicts between the indigenous peoples and the arrivals, mostly ethnic Russians, from outside, with the latter angry that Moscow is giving the non-Russians benefits it is not giving the Russians and the former newly energized because of their victory.

            These may seem like small things given that the numerically small peoples of the North number fewer than two million people; but it is anything but. While they are small in number, their territories occupy nearly a third of the Russian Federation and are the locations of much of the country’s natural wealth. Problems there are thus problems for the entire country.

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