Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Five Million Slavs Still in Central Asia ‘Reservoir’ for Russia’s Demographic Development, Shustov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 14 – Despite the departure of half of the Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians from the republics of Central Asia over the last 30 years, there are still about five million of them remaining, Aleksandr Shustov; and even though their share of the population has declined even more given local population growth.

But despite their decline, the Russian commentator says, they remain an important factor in the region and an important “reservoir” of Slavs who may be attracted back to Russia and help it solve its current population problems (

What makes Shustov’s article intriguing is that the Kremlin has more often seen the Slavic population in Central Asia as anchoring these countries rather than as a resource Moscow needs to use to address its own demographic decline. That so prominent a Moscow commentator is now saying the reverse is thus telling.

            According to the last Soviet census in 1989, Shustov says, there were 10,992,000 Slavs in the five Central Asian union republics, of whom 9.5 million were ethnic Russians. All three have seen their numbers fall because of departures, although many Ukrainians and Belarusians there are assimilating to Russians and would come to Russia if they left where they are now.

            At that time, Slavs formed “almost a quarter of the entire population of Central Asia,” although they formed the largest share in Kazakhstan (44.4 percent) and only a quarter in Kyrgyzstan and only about ten percent in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the commentator notes.

            This pattern of settlement reflected something else: Russians moved into rural areas in Kazakhstan because land was available while elsewhere Russians moved into cities, a difference that continues to play a role in their attitudes about leaving and the impact of their leaving on the host governments.

            After the USSR disintegrated, the Slavs of Central Asia began to decline absolutely and relatively as a result of emigration to the Russian Federation and declines in their fertility rates relative to those of the titular nations. Most who left went to Russia, with a much smaller number to Ukraine and “only a few” to Belarus, a pattern that continues.

            The decisions to leave have been typically driven by the level of stability in these countries. Where there have been violent conflicts, a larger share of the Slavs has left; where things have been more stable, a far smaller share has, something often obscured because of the far larger number of Slavs in Kazakhstan, a relatively stable place.

            Shustov presents detailed figures on the number of those who have left and those who remain and concludes that “the Russian world is steadily shrinking” and thus should be viewed as “the most important demographic ‘reservoir’ of the Eastern Slavic population (after Ukraine and Belarus) which Russia must consider in designing its migration policy.”

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