Although there is some vigorous debate between demographers about the state of the Russian demographic crisis (we’ve covered some of the recent sparring here) there is no doubt that the Russian population has declined markedly since the fall of the Soviet Union. As this article in the Japan Times states:

“Russia’s population has been declining since the mid-1990s, hit by falling birth rates and life expectancy in the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. It currently stands at 142.5 million, compared with 148.7 million in 1991.”

This represents a drop of just over 4% in 20-odd years. The relatively low Russian birth rate is affected by the large number of abortions that Russian women have. According to the UN’s World Abortion Policies Chart for 2013, the Russian abortion rate was 37.4 per 1000 women aged between 15-44, the highest rate for countries for which data was available. 

Now, in the first address in modern Russia by the  head of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Duma, or lower chamber of parliament, Patriarch Kirill expressly linked the two problems together – a high abortion rate and a low birth rate. He called for a reduction in the “horrifyingly high” number of abortions and stated that:

“‘The idea of absolutely prioritizing the value of free choice and of rejecting the priority of moral norms has become a slowly exploding bomb for Western civilization…If we could just cut in half the number of abortions, there would be steady and powerful demographic growth.’”

This follows on from relatively recent tightening of Russia’s abortion laws (we reported on that here) and Vladimir Putin’s desire for more Russian babies (see here). According to the Japan Times:

“[The speech] was a sign of the church’s growing influence under President Vladimir Putin, who has sought to champion conservative Russian values at a time of heightened tension with the West, especially over the conflict in Ukraine.”

It will be interesting to see if the continued tension between Russia and Western Europe/USA will result in more restrictions on the abortion law in Russia. This would at least be a silver lining in what is a dramatically escalating situation in Eastern Europe. We shall have to wait and see if anything comes of Patriarch Kirill’s message and if the Duma and the Russian people heed his message. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...