Saturday, March 2, 2024

Russia’s Population Decline Not Sufficient to Stop Putin’s Aggression, Russian Demographer Speaking Anonymously Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 29 – Russia’s demographic decline continues; but even as exacerbated by the additional losses as a result of the war in Ukraine, it is still far from enough to force the Kremlin to turn away from its aggression there and elsewhere, according to Moscow demographers speaking on condition of anonymity.

            “The real influence of the war on the demographic situation in Russia has turned out to be not as significant as was expected,” the anonymous Russian demographer says. Experts had expected a reduction in the number of births of 10 to 15 percent but in reality, in 2022-2023, it fell but only with the margin of error” (

            Most of the decline registered reflected declines in the number of women in the prime childbearing cohorts, he says. And in fact, because that decline was greater last year than in 1999, the fertility rate among Russian women has actually increased from 1.16 children per lifetime at the end of the 1990s to 1.4 now.

            In short, “women are less numerous but they are giving birth to more children than at the end of the 1990s.” And that means that they are likely to give birth to enough to ensure that Moscow will have a sufficient draft pool to be able to field armies needed to support Putin’s aggression well into the future.

            That doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems, the demographer says. The fertility rate is still so low that the Russian population will continue to decline by more than a percentage point each year – or 30 percent over the next generation – a trend that will hit the economy hard especially if young men are being drafted to fight.

            But Moscow which is already pouring money into the economy to get people to fight could improve the situation by spending a small fraction of what it is spending on the war in Ukraine to encourage Russians to have second and third children. Last year, the demographer says, figures confirm that.

            In 2023, births of first children “stopped falling.” That of second children, “declined but slowed.” And that of third, “was more or less stable and led to a sufficiently high birthrate,” the expert says. Emigration mattered but given returnees, it is too small as well to have a significant impact on the overall situation.

            That is also true of combat losses, the anonymous demographer says. Russia may have suffered as many as 100,000 combat deaths, vastly more than the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan but vastly less than it suffered during World War II. Losses now have not depressed life expectancy among Russians more than six months to a year.

            “That is significant but not a catastrophe,” the demographer continues; and the Kremlin can continue its current aggressive policies “indefinitely.” There are simply going to be more young men entering the draft age group than the government needs to fill the ranks of its military forces.

            But the war in Ukraine has had one serious consequence demographically, the scholar says. It has marked the return of “the curse of super-high male mortality of Soviet and post-Soviet years.” But the reason behind that has changed. Earlier, alcohol was to blame and it hit men in their 40s and 50s. Now, it reflects combat losses and emigration of those 30 to 35.

            If the alcoholics die earlier than they should, he points out, they at least were likely to have become fathers. Those dying earlier in combat now, however, are likely to die childless, something that will lead to a further overall decline in the Russian population.

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