A few weeks ago I wrote about the brief and modest recovery of Russia’s natural growth rate in the years around 2013. I noted that since then the recovery has reversed. The last couple of years have seen the natural growth rate slip back into negative territory: 2019 is expected to see a growth rate of -1.5 people per thousand. This is a long way off the large negative natural growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s (which saw a rate of -6.6 per thousand at one stage) but the fact that the growth is negative is of concern for the Russian government. This is especially so since the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, linked the reversal of Russia’s population decline to his coming to the presidency. If national pride and power is linked to population, then Putin will be wanting Russia’s population to naturally start to improve and not to continue to gently decline.
Unfortunately, recent official figures from the Kremlin show that 2018 was the first year since 2008 that the Russian population as a whole actually declined. The natural growth rate has, as mentioned above, been negative during most of the last decade. But that natural decline has been offset by immigration (like many other countries around the world). Now immigration is no longer able to keep pace with the natural population decline and the population as a whole has subsided to 146.8 million.
So, in order to counteract this, Putin has prioritised migration as a policy concern and has signed a plan of action for 2019-2025. He has also added migration to the remit of his constitutional rights office. The plan is ambitious – it involves granting Russian citizenship to up to 10 million migrants from former post-Soviet, Russian-speaking countries. These so-called “donor countries” include Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Moldova. Migrants from these donor countries would help Russia to reach the 300,000 new migrants per year to offset natural population decline. By prioritising Russian-speakers the plan seeks to minimise difficulties of assimilation. Further, it is reported that changes to the rules relating to citizenship and immigration are going to be considered from May. If Putin wants Russia to remain demographically strong and to reverse the incipient population decline of the country, then he needs to turn to migration. It does not seem that natural population growth will be in positive territory anytime soon.
Of course, alternatively, he could always look to annex other territories – the Russian population received a boost after Crimea was added to it. After all, if the Russian-speakers won't come to Russia, then perhaps Russia needs to go to the Russian speakers…?