Staunton, Nov. 23 – “The main problem of Russia” is not being much discussed, but it is playing an increasing role in limiting the choices of the Kremlin, Pavel Pryanikov says. The number of working age Russians is declining so rapidly that the country can’t support both the large force structures the regime wants and the economic development the country needs.
Pryanikov, who blogs under the screen name Tolkovatel, says there are three reasons for the declining numbers of working-age Russians: the echo of extremely low birthrates in the 1990s, the emigration of the most qualified workers, and super-high mortality, especially during the pandemic (publizist.ru/blogs/117734/41387/-).
There are no signs that these factors are going to change radically over the course of the next decade; and consequently, the Russian regime is feeling a squeeze between maintaining large force structures for domestic control and foreign aggression and achieving even modest growth in economic modernization and development.
The Kremlin has responded in two ways: On the one hand, it has increased immigration from Central Asia and the Caucasus, an unpopular and ineffective measure. Unpopular because Russians don’t like these culturally distinct groups and ineffective because few of the immigrants have anything but the most basic skills, Pryanikov says.
And on the other, it has adopted the Soviet tradition of using people like students and prisoners who can’t say no when ordered to work for the state. “But here the reserves are limited. There are few prisoners, and not that many students can be compelled by force to gather potatoes,” let alone take part in more advanced economic activity.
There is only one immediate possibility for improving things: increasing investment in the productivity of labor. Russia has done some of that but far less than it needs to for economic modernization and growth. And that means the regime must look elsewhere to find more workers for the economy.
One obvious place to find more workers would be to reduce the size of the force structures, which currently employ more than five million working-age men. That is 15 to 20 percent of the total of this group. Only if their numbers are cut does Russia have any chance of economic growth.