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Russia - People

Since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia experienced the largest exodus since the October Revolution of 1917. The mass departure of skilled and educated Russians brings to mind a comparison with emigration in 1918 [during the Russian Civil War], and the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin called those who have left the country "traitors to the nation" and declared them enemies of the state.

Nearly four million people left Russia in the first three months of 2022, including IT specialists, journalists, researchers and analysts, as the country faced increasing diplomatic and economic pressure from Western powers over its offensive. Although some had been planning to travel for work or personal reasons after COVID restrictions were relaxed, a substantial number appears to be connected with the invasion of Ukraine, sanctions or fears of conscription and martial law. Among them are some of Russia’s best and brightest.

Many who left are intellectuals and artists. Figures about exactly how many people have left Russia were not immediately available, but one thing was clear — in the five weeks since the start of the war, Russia experienced the largest exodus since the October Revolution. Several hundreds of thousands of people are sure to have left the country; some suggested the number is over a million. Georgia expected to receive more than 100,000 refugees from Russia; Armenia reported a similar number. In particular, academics, IT specialists, journalists, bloggers and artists are turning their backs on Russia, as its leader, Vladimir Putin, has set the country against the whole world. It is not only the well-heeled and celebrities who left their homeland; most of those who have left are middle-class people working in creative professions.

According to the Levada Center, the only independent polling institute independent in Russia, pro-European Russians who condemn the war in Ukraine make up at least 20% of the total Russian population. In purely mathematical terms, that translates to 30 million people. However, very few of them were actually able to leave the country.

Population decline is clearly a key motivator for Russia in its war against Ukraine. Ukraine has a population of 44 million people who are mostly of Slavic descent from the former Soviet bloc. For Putin, the invasion is not only about capturing territory he believes belongs to Russia, but about gaining control over a population he wants to ‘integrate’ into the country.

Russia’s population has been declining at a dizzying rate for the past 30 years. The demographic trend has been steadfast since 1991, when the Soviet Union fell and Russia counted 148.2 million inhabitants within its far-reaching borders. By 2021, that number had fallen to 146.1 million, according to Russian statistics agency Rosstat. What’s even more striking is that, according to demographic projections, the country’s population will continue to fall and reach between 130 and 140 million inhabitants by 2050.

With a slumping birth rate, a death rate on the rise and immigration slowly falling, Russia is experiencing population decline. Despite having launched some of the most encouraging childbirth policies, by 2022 Putin faced a “major problem for someone who believes population is synonymous with power”, says French demographer Laurent Chalard. “Putin is obsessed with this demographic issue,” says Chalard. “In his mind, the power of a country is linked to the size of its population. The larger the population, the more powerful the state.” Following this mindset, Putin presented the demographic crisis as a “historic challenge” in January 2020, and assured his country that “Russia’s destiny and its historic prospects depend on how numerous we will be”.

The average Russian is under a lot less stress in Putin's Russia than in the uncertain years of the breakup of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev and the chaos and financial crises that characterized the Yeltsin era.

In 2020 the official age of youth was extended. The State Duma decided that people from 14 to 35 are officially classed as “youth” [which gives them access, among other things, to potential state benefits and support]. Russia’s conservative turn, the imposition of so-called “traditional family values” - wss not only about the rejection of gender equality. This “tradition” presupposes a father’s power over his children. Not only women, but also children find themselves in a subordinate position in this scheme, since they must honor the father’s authority, follow his instructions. This aspect of the “traditional family” , fits perfectly into the structure of an authoritarian state, which restricts the rights of not only women, but also children and young people.

Russia's population is expected to decline by 325,500 people - 11 times more than in 2019 (when the number of Russians fell by just 32,100 people) - according to the October 2020 government projections, first leaked by the Telegram channel Maisky Ukaz and later confirmed by sources who spoke to the news outlet RBC. The estimated population loss in 2020 is now twice what the government anticipated in its last report, issued in August, when federal officials said Russia's numbers would start growing again as soon as 2022. According to the October report, Russia's population will likely decline by 1.2 million people by 2024, falling steadily until 2030.

The average life expectancy in Russia has for the first time exceeded 72 years, deputy prime minister Olga Golodets said 14 August 2017. According to data from the federal statistics agency Rosstat, the average life expectancy reached 72.4 in the first half year of 2017. She attributed the new figures to a lower death rate, which in the first six months of this year was 12.9, compared to 13.2 in the same period last year.

Despite reaching the benchmark, Russia still lags behind many other countries. In 2015, the life expectancy in the United States was 78.8 and German citizens reached on average 80.7 years of age, statistics from the OECD show. New plans laid out by the Russian government aim to raise the life expectancy to 76 years across the country by 2025.

In 2015, the OECD attributed Russia's slow increase in life expectancy to "the impact of the economic transition in the 1990s and a rise in risk-increasing behavior among men," including heavy drinking and smoking.

"Izvestiya" reported in January 2017 that the health ministry had "corrected a number of goals outlined in the state program on "The Development of Health." It had specified that mortality among Russians would fall to 11.4 persons per 1000 per year by 2020 from its current level of 12.3. Now it said the number will be 13 per thousand in that year, a small increase. The Moscow paper said the ministry lowered its projected life expectancy for Russians in 2020 from 74.3 years from birth to 74 years.

In 1992, the population of Russia was 150 million. From 1992 to 2011, the country’s total population reportedly fell by almost 7 million (almost 5%), with almost continuous year-on-year population declines. By 2010 the population was about 142 million. In the 1990s projections indicated that that growth will resume at a low rate during the first part of the 21st century, but by 2010 it was projected to fall below 100 million by 2050.

After Evgenii Chazov became the new minister of health in February 1987 and Gorbachev's policy of glasnost' was extended to the realm of health care, Soviet authorities finally acknowledged what Western observers had suspected for some time, namely, that major health indicators depicted a disturbing picture of the nation's health. Statistics for the 1970s and 1980s showed rising infant mortality rates, falling life expectancy (particularly among the male population), increases in infectious diseases, rises in sexually transmitted illnesses, and a high rate of new cases of tuberculosis among children and adolescents.

A number of press articles on Russia's public health and demographic challenges, such as the article by demographics and public health expert Murray Feshbach in the October 5, 2008, edition of the Washington Post , describe a set of problems that could lead to a catastrophic loss of population and associated loss of economic and political power. Russia's health indicators reached a nadir in 2000, when deaths exceeded births by 958,000.

Subsequently, there have been modest improvements in most indicators. Russia's demographics picture brightened in 2006, at least compared to 2005. Improvements in mortality explain the better than expected net population loss in 2006. A total of 2,165,000 people died in 2006, 138,000 fewer than in 2005. Russia saw declines in almost all of the major causes of death in 2006 compared to 2005. Although a spate of poisonings from alcohol surrogates received much attention in 2006, alcohol poisonings actually declined dramatically by 20.7 percent compared to 2005.

At the end of December 2019, Rosstat issued three possible demographic prognoses for the period to 2036. According to the optimistic prediction, which foresees successes improving birthrates and life expectancy as well as increasing migration, has the population rising to 150.13 million people by 2036. The conservative estimate puts the population at 143 million by 2036. The pessimistic version, which projects continued declining natural population declines and a failure of the migration policy, puts the population at 134.28 million by 2036.

United Nations forecasts for Russia are even a bit more dire. The "optimistic" variant puts Russia's population at 147.3 million in 2050. The conservative estimate is 135.8 million, while the pessimistic prediction foresees a population of 124.6 million by the middle of this century. The UN projected that pessimistic prediction even further, saying it is possible Russia's population could be just 83.7 million by 2100.

Russian infant mortality data should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Russia did not follow WHO guidelines on reporting births and infant mortality statistics, and these data are routinely understated. If a newborn weighed less than one kilogram and lives less than one week, the birth was never recorded and was not considered in calculating infant mortality statistics. In fact, these births were not even recorded as still-births, and essentially "disappear" from the official record-keeping system. It was also not uncommon for local medical officials to fail to report babies who weigh more than a kilogram at birth but who die within a week. This was usually done by changing the original birth weight to 990 grams or another figure slightly less than a kilogram. These practices seem to be legacies of the older Soviet system, where, as demographers now acknowledge, the official infant mortality statistics were routinely reduced by a factor of 25 percent.

Russia has a severe problem with premature mortality, as reflected in decreased life expectancy especially for males (60.4 years in 2006). The most prevalent causes of premature death in Russia are linked to cardiovascular disease and external causes such as trauma, both of which are influenced by tobacco and alcohol abuse. Twenty percent of overall mortality is attributed to excessive alcohol consumption and 15 percent to smoking, according to one prominent Moscow cancer researcher. These deaths are potentially preventable if it is possible to change social norms of alcohol abuse and smoking habits.

Russian employers face continued workforce decline in the near future despite recent positive, demographic trends in terms of birthrates and population growth. In 2007, the working age population in Russia, i.e. men ages 16-60 and women 16-55, reached an historic high of more than 90 million individuals. However, the government statistics service (Rosstat) estimates that the working age population will decrease by more than one million each year from 2013-2018. By 2025, Rosstat forecasts a working age population decline of 14 million from current levels.

Differential dynamics among rural populations are correlated with ethnicity, natural condition and remoteness of large cities and constitute a key driver in the spatial disintegration of rural Russia. Currently, Russia is slowly transitioning into a country with an internal 'archipelago' of islands of productive agriculture around cities set within a matrix of much less productive and abandoned croplands. This heterogeneous spatial pattern is mainly driven by depopulation of the least favorable parts of the countryside, where 'least favorable' is some function of lower fertility of land, higher remoteness from urban markets, or both.

The aging of Russia's population will increase the burden on a shrinking workforce of supporting a growing number of pensioners. The government is likely to continue relying on public health initiatives targeting increased birthrates and reduced mortality as the primary means of addressing Russia's demographic situation. However, higher birthrates, which experts speculate are temporary and not sustainable, will not solve the labor deficit facing employers over the coming decade. Modernizing Russia's antiquated industries to improve productivity would mitigate the impact of the labor deficit.

Politicians have paid little attention to dealing with high mortality rates, particularly among men, where the average life expectancy is 60.37 years of age. The general consensus among experts is that this would lead more quickly to demographic improvements than trying to stimulate births. President Mikhail Davydov of the Academy of Medical Sciences has argued that the government made a fundamental error by focusing so much attention on promoting greater births through financial incentives. In his view, the government should have made a concentrated effort to reduce the number of deaths from preventable causes, such as road and workplace accidents, alcohol poisonings, suicides and murders. Likewise, Kirill Danishevskiy, a consultant at Russia's Open Health Institute, has argued that the government could greatly reduce mortality and increase life expectancies among the working-age population by adopting programs aimed at reducing the prevalence of hard alcohol drinking and smoking, which most experts agree are the main factors driving Russia's high mortality.

On 30 January 2021 Rosstat reported that the population of the Russian Federation fell by an estimated 510,000, the largest number in many years and one that some are inclined to blame entirely on the pandemic. But demographer Vladimir Kozlov said that excess deaths in 2020 compared to a year earlier explain less than half of this figure. Russia’s fertility rate (around 1.6), while low, is at the level of the European average. The addition of Crimea added a little under two million people to the Russian population. The Russian population rises and falls in generation-length waves dating back to the Second World War, and Russia has entered into an unavoidable trough. It will take several years before the natural course of the cyclical process moves things back in an upwards direction.

Russia’s 140 million citizens descend from more than 100 ethnic groups. Russian is the official language of Russia and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Russian is also the language of such giants of world literature as Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Pasternak, and Solzhenitsyn. Russia's educational system has produced nearly 100% literacy. About 8.1 million students attended Russia's 1,108 institutions of higher education in 2008, but continued reform is critical to producing students with skills to adapt to a market economy. Because great emphasis is placed on science and technology in education, Russian mathematical, scientific, and space and aviation research is still generally of a high order. At the end of 2010, there were 60 million Internet users in Russia, with the number growing by 15% a year. Industry watchers forecast that Russia will be Europe’s largest Internet market within the next 2 years.

The Russian labor force, amounting to nearly 76 million workers in 2010, is undergoing tremendous changes. Although well educated and skilled, it is largely mismatched to the rapidly changing needs of the Russian economy. Official unemployment dropped to its lowest rate of 5.4% in May 2008, and labor shortages appeared in some high-skilled job markets. The economic crisis that began in late 2008, however, quickly reversed this trend and the ranks of unemployed swelled to an International Labor Organization (ILO)-estimated 8.2% in 2009; 1.8 million Russians lost their jobs in the first quarter of 2009 alone. By the end of 2010, the Russian economy showed signs of recovery, with the unemployment rate falling to 7.4% by the end of the second quarter, according to the Russian Government statistics agency, Rosstat. Following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic dislocation it engendered, the standard of living fell dramatically. Real disposable incomes then doubled between 1999 and 2009, and experts estimate that the middle class constitutes approximately one-fourth of the population.

The economic crisis, however, interrupted this trend, as real disposable incomes grew by only 1.9% in 2009 and wages fell by 2.8% during the same period. The stock of wage arrears, which peaked during the crisis at almost 9 billion rubles, had fallen by almost half by February 2010. Government anti-crisis measures to bolster wages, pensions, and other benefits helped reduce the poverty rate in 2009 to an estimated 14%, bringing the number of people living below the subsistence minimum (equivalent to about $169 per month) to below 20 million. The official poverty rate was estimated as 13.1% by the World Bank at the end of 2010. According to Russian statistics, the poverty level increased to 14.9% of the population in the first half of 2011 because of an increase in the official poverty threshold and because average real income fell slightly in 2011.

In 1992 Russia’s population passed a demographic milestone, experiencing more deaths than births. Although attention is often given to the increased mortality among adult men, mortality has also risen for women and infants. While recent Russian demographic trends reflect the country’s current economic and social malaise, they also continue to reveal the shocks experienced by Russia’s population earlier in this century. Russia’s fertility has been falling sharply since the breakup of the USSR: Russia’s 1993 total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.4 ranks among the lowest in Europe. Despite this, access to modern contraceptive methods remains difficult. The number of doctors in relation to the population is high by American standards, although medical care in Russia, even in major cities, is generally far below Western standards. The unraveling of the Soviet state in its last decades and the physical and psychological traumas of transition during the 1990s resulted in a steady decline in the health of the Russian people. Currently Russia faces a demographic crisis as births lag far behind deaths.

Russia's public health problems, which are a result in part of uncontrolled development, are a lesson for developing countries. Trends in births and deaths in Russia indicate that as socioeconomic conditions declined, the death rate increased. During 1992-93 the death rate increased from 12.1 per 1000 population to 14.5, with 75% of the increase due to cardiovascular disease, accidents, murder, suicide, and alcohol poisoning. Quality of health care was given as one reason for the high cardiovascular disease rate that included deaths due to even mild heart attacks. Some 20-30% of deaths are attributed to pollution. about 75% of rivers and lakes in the former Soviet Union are considered unfit for drinking, and 50% of tap water is unsanitary. An estimated 15% of Russia's land area is considered to be an ecological disaster zone. Births declined from a peak of 2.5 million in 1987 to 1.4 million in 1994. During this same period deaths increased from 1.5 million to 2.3 million. In 1994 deaths exceeded births by 880,000. Life expectancy declined from 65 to 57 years for men and from 75 years to 71 years for women.

Infant mortality is rising. 11% of newborns had birth defects, and 60% showed evidence of allergies or vitamin D deficiencies. The death rate during pregnancy was 50 per 1000 births, and 75% of Russian women experienced complications during pregnancy. Women's health in the reproductive years was compromised by gynecological infections. A survey in 1992 revealed that 75% of Russian women gave insufficient income as a reason for reduced childbearing. The social conditions in Russia and the former Soviet republics reflect a lack of confidence in the future. Demographic trends are affected by a complex set of factors including economic collapse, economic change and uncertainty, inadequate health care, and poor environmental conditions. These changes occurred during the mid-1980s and before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. While its population is aging, the high number of deaths of working-age males due to cardiovascular disease is a major cause of Russia's demographic woes. A rapid increase in HIV/AIDS infections and tuberculosis, added to rising deaths from cancer, compounds the problem. In 2011, life expectancy at birth was estimated at 63.03 years for men and 74.87 years for women. The large annual excess of deaths over births, if unabated, could cut Russia's population by 30% over the next 50 years, though inward migration could change this picture.

Russia's migrant community is second in size only to that of the United States. But the government is wary of loosening immigration policies because it could lead to instability and exacerbate existing social problems, such as xenophobia and ethnic conflict. In the view of many, the Russian popular psyche is simply not ready to accept immigrants, and they would "never" be considered Russian -- nor would their children or grandchildren. This could be the case both de facto and de jure, since citizenship is not acquired automatically by being born in Russia, and the naturalization process is difficult.

Despite experts' claims that stabilizing the population will require immigration on a massive scale, the GOR and the Russian population remain generally disinclined to immigration as a potential solution. According to a report of the Demographics Institute of the Higher School of Economics (HSE), stabilizing the population by 2015, as set forth in the 2025 Concept, would require annual inflows of 200,000 migrants through 2016 and over 300,000 through 2025. The report also highlighted the tendency on the Russian labor market for Russian workers to occupy positions with higher qualification requirements, while migrants often fill lower-skilled vacancies that many Russians would not accept. According to 2007 Rosstat data, 40 percent of migrants worked in the construction sector, while another 19 percent worked in trade.

In 2007, the government significantly simplified the registration and work permit processes for migrants from the CIS. However, the Federal Migration Service (FMS) later lowered the number of job permits for foreigners. In addition, while the Russian population would generally be open to future repatriation of ethnic Russians as took place in the 1990s, Russians remain uneasy about the prospect of significant inflows of non-Russian immigrants.

In his 20 April 2021 message the head of state proposed unprecedented social support measures, largely expected to overcome what he described as a "very complex demographic period." Its roots are to be looked for at the end of last century, when the birth rate in the country slumped to 1.2, below the World War II level. Toward the end of the 2010s it climbed up slightly to 1.5, but still fell short of the desirable target. Putin mentioned the need for promoting the birth rate’s rise to 1.7. For this he proposed a package of measures, including an expansion of the maternity capital program. In 2020, the program’s certificates were granted to more than 1.2 million Russian families - about 10% of all those who had obtained the benefit ever since the program was rolled out.

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Page last modified: 25-05-2022 16:35:41 ZULU