Sunday, February 26, 2023

Number of Ethnic Russians Grew in Soviet Period but has Fallen Since, Census Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 21 – Between the 1959 and 1989 Soviet censuses, the number of Russians in the USSR grew from 114 million to 145 million; but between the 2002 and 2021 censuses in the post-Soviet Russian Federation, their number fell from 116 million to 105.5 million, perhaps the most significant trend these enumerations have documented.

            That judgment is warranted because nations large and small who feel that their numbers are declining typically feel threatened and want to reverse that pattern by changing state policy or  lashing out at other nations that are doing better (

            Smaller nations whose numbers are declining frequently begin to talk about the threat that they will disappear altogether, while larger nations like the Russian more often lash out at others, denying the separateness of the latter as Vladimir Putin has done with regard to the Ukrainians as a way of covering or reversing his nation’s decline.

            Some of the recent decline reflects the fact that many ethnic Russians still live in former Soviet republics; some the aging of this nationality, with declining birthrates and rising deathrates; and some that for Russians more than perhaps for others, nationality has declined in importance because the state asks for it only in censuses.

            But there is no question that the trajectory of the Russian nation has changed and become increasingly negative, both absolutely and relative to other groups, the largest of which have remained stable in number or even increased and that that pattern is disturbing for Russians and encouraging perhaps for others.


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