Staunton, May 3 – New data from the Russian state statistical agency, Rosstat, show that across the Russian north, most population centers continue to lose population but those connected with the military have grown (thebarentsobserver.com/ru/bezopasnost/2021/05/na-russkom-severe-rezkiy-demograficheskiy-spad-lyudey-stanovitsya-bolshe-tolko-v).
During 2020, the agency reports, the population of Murmansk Oblast fell by more than a percent, but Severomorsk, which is the headquarters of Russia’s Northern Fleet grew by 1250 people to a total of 65,080. Other military towns like Snezhnegorsk and Pechenga also grew, and only a few military centers, including Gadzhiyevo and Polyarny, saw small declines.
Russian officials have blamed the population declines in most cities last year on the coronavirus pandemic; and it undoubtedly did play a role, both in increasing deaths and in prompting those in some centers to move elsewhere to get treatment, Atle Staalesen of the Barents Observer suggests.
Both the growth of military encampments and the decline in civilian populations are the result of Moscow’s policies, the first being the result of Vladimir Putin’s commitment to expanding Russia’s defense capacity in the North to counter what he sees as a threat in the Arctic and the second being his decision not to support the civilian population there or elsewhere.
As a result, except for the military, the civilian part of the Russian population in the north is declining and likely to decline further, something that will give the armed forces an even bigger voice in decisions about the North even as central policies continue to put the civilian centers on the road to degradation and decay.