Don’t trust demographic graphs, says Anatoly Karlin, a San Francisco blogger and Russia analyst writing in the Discovery Institute’s Russia Blog. He believes that there is room for cautious optimism about Russia’s future.

‘Though rhetorical hyperbole dismisses it as a dying nation with "European birth rates and African death rates", the reality is that it is already fast recovering from the extended transition shock of the post-Soviet collapse. Instead, it is likely that the next few decades will see stagnant or slow population growth as Russian fertility patterns converge to that of France or Canada, with any shortfalls between births and deaths filled in by immigration; and after 2030, the world system faces a series of discontinuities that rend apart any predictive enterprise.’

Karlin detects a growing optimism amongst Russians, with the birth rate inching up correspondingly.

"After a long period of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 more people began to believe Russia was moving in a positive than in a negative direction, and from early 2008 more people felt confident in tomorrow than not. Though positing dependencies between such semi-intangible variables and concrete demographic trends is risky, I do not think it is a coincidence that solid improvements in the TFR only began from 2006. Anyone closely observing Russia in the past few years will have noticed a new confident conservatism in Russian society, albeit many pessimists interpret it as mere petro-fueled swagger, about to be brought back down to earth by the unfolding economic crisis. Perhaps. Yet marriage rates, perhaps as good an indicator as any of social confidence, surged from a nadir of 6.2 / 1000 people in 2000, to 7.5 / 1000 in 2005 and 8.9 / 1000 in 2007, and continued increasing in Jan-Feb of this year."

And what about the notion that Russia is on track to becoming a Muslim nation? Nonsense, says Karlin. At worst (depending on your point of view, of course), ethnic Russians will still constitute about 69% of the nation in 2050. In any case, the two biggest Muslim groups, the Tartars (3.8% of the population) and the Bashkirs (1.2%), have sub-replacement fertility rates not too different from ethnic Russians.

‘Tatars, who make up more than a third of Russia’s Muslim population, are almost as secular to Islam as ethnic Russians are to Christian Orthodoxy. Even amongst the Chechens Wahabbism never truly took root, despite the best efforts of Arab mujahideen. As Fedia Kriukov put it, "the whole idea of Muslim takeover is predicated on one giant falsification — the substitution of the term "Muslim" for the term "representative of a traditionally Muslim ethnicity"…Absolutely nothing would change in the country if Tatars became the majority, however unlikely that situation is."’

And perhaps tongue in cheek, Karlin points out that Russia is one country which will benefit from global warming (bring it on!), so its population may be enriched by millions of climate refugees. Predictions are always tough, particularly about the future…

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet