Thursday, December 17, 2020

Russian Population Set to Decline by 600,000 or More This Year -- and Not Primarily Because of Pandemic, Zhelenin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Rising mortality and falling fertility in the Russian Federation this year means that the country’s population is likely to fall by 600,000 or more, that the primary cause of this is not the pandemic, and that Russia is headed toward a population of 125 million by mid-century, Aleksandr Zhelenin says.

            Unfortunately, the Russian authorities seek to blame the entire situation on the pandemic; and some of their allies, like activists involved in the Sober Russia Project, want to blame foreign competitors, opposition activists, and the state’s failure to concentrate power in its hands, the Rosbalt writer says (

            But of those arguments hold water. The foreigners who some Russians say are inflicting the pandemic on Russia are suffering from it as much or more than Russia. The last time Russian birthrates ticked up was after the protests of 2011-2012, and every move the Kremlin has made to tighten control since has pushed the demographic numbers in the wrong direction.

            The notion that the coronavirus is a hybrid weapon collapses on its own, the impact of Russian military actions is minimal although unknown because Moscow has classified its losses from them, and, most important, the relationship between population growth and popular activism is exactly the reverse of what those in the Kremlin think.

            When activism is greater, so too are births; when the regime cracks down and prevents activism, birthrates fall and death rates rise. That means that the pursuit of territorial expansion and government control will have exactly the opposite impact on the country’s demographic future as Putin and his allies believe, Zhelenin continues.

            Russians have fewer children when their standard of living declines and their expectations for the future do as well, and they suffer higher death rates from alcohol and narcotics, factors which the commentator says no one has yet thought to identify as “’foreign agents.’”  

            For the moment, the Russian authorities are seeking to blame these demographic developments exclusively on the pandemic so that they don’t have to face up to the realities. But statistics show that deaths from the coronavirus form only a very small fraction of deaths and that the death rate has gone up more over the last year than the pandemic can explain.

            The real reasons are rising prices, a declining standard of living, and the unlikelihood that the regime’s only method of countering those trends – radically rising oil prices – are unlikely to return ever again. When Russians did begin to live better during the oil boom, they had more children and suffered fewer deaths.

            The real question for the future, Zhelenin says, is whether the Russian government can come up with any strategy to improve the standard of living of Russians. If as seems likely it can’t, the decline in the overall number of Russians is likely to accelerate until Russians take things into their own hands and force a change.

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