Monday, August 30, 2021

Pandemic ‘Far from Only Factor’ Worsening Russia’s Demographic Prospects, Kryuchkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – The impact of the pandemic on Russia’s demographic situation has been so profound over the last two years that many are ignoring other factors that are working to increase the number of deaths and decrease the number of births among Russians, Nikolay Kryuchkov says.

            The government and its media are only too happy to blame covid for all problems in this sector not only because it is effective – blaming the pandemic seems entirely plausible – but because the other problems highlight the need for policy changes the Kremlin isn’t interested in making, the public health specialist says (

            According to Kryuchkov, the Kremlin in fact has made the impact of the coronavirus worse not just by its earlier healthcare “optimization” cuts but also by its unwillingness to “introduce serious centralized measures” to overcome “the fatigue” many Russians feel about the pandemic, something that is leading them to ignore orders from the regions.

            It is important to keep in mind that a large part of mortality in Russia “remains unconnected with the coronavirus.” It is only when one is speaking about excess mortality that the pandemic plays a role. Indeed, the public health specialist says that covid accounts for “about 90 percent” of that since the start of 2020.

            “Demographic trends in Russia are really negative,” Kryuchkov continues. The country needs to raise the birthrate and lower the death rate, but neither of these is easy, inexpensive or can be achieved quickly. The number of women in the prime child-bearing cohorts is falling, and so unless there is an unprecedented rise in births among the remaining, the population will continue to fall for some time.

            What is critically important to recognize is that targeted assistance will only go so far. People need to be optimistic to have children, and they won’t be optimistic if they don’t see the economy improving not only in the short term but for many decades ahead. The Kremlin isn’t promoting that and so whatever it says about births isn’t that effective.

            There is more that can be done to lower death rates, but they too require changing the social situation and that in turn requires changing social policies. Otherwise, there too, the impact of specific efforts to promote a healthier way of life will be far less than needed to change the overall situation.

            Escaping “the demographic pit” in which Russia finds itself will require, the health specialist says, both the development of the economy for its people and the clear articulation of national priorities so that the population will regain confidence in the future. The current powers that be aren’t doing either of these things.

            “If the state doesn’t have a long-term development strategy, if there are not positive changes every month which the population can see, people will remain pessimistic and will not have a desire to give birth to more children” or to change their ways of life so that they will live longer, Kryuchkov suggests.

            All too many of those in power look at migration as a quick fix, he says. But that is “a bad idea.” Not only are most of the immigrant workers Russia attracts low skilled, but relying on their numbers allows the government to avoid making the changes so that Russians can develop, have more children and live longer lives.

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