Many are anxious that Putin be stopped both because of his questionable conduct towards his own people and his irreverence for international law.  However, demography has a hold on Russia’s future power which Putin in well aware of.  We’ve discussed conflicting views among commentators about Russia’s demographic outlook on this blog before.  Whether you’re a pessimist or an optimist, the current economic outlook is not helping Russia’s fertility rates.  A combination of inflation, plummeting oil prices and low growth meant that people’s average real disposable income shrank last year, and most people expect that 2015 will be worse. 

George Weigal comments in the National Review that:

Russia is, in many respects, dying. Alcoholism is rampant. Life expectancy is sinking: Today, a 15-year-old Haitian boy has a longer life expectancy than his 15-year-old Russian counterpart. The economy is stagnant, and the ruble is cratering. Russia imports potatoes from Romania. Churches are largely empty. Yet atop this rotting body politic is an oligarchic elite that functions very much like the Mafia families depicted in Puzo’s novel The Godfather and the films spun off from it.

Deaths were up by 2% and births down by 4% according to preliminary demographic data for January 2015 released by Rosstat.  Those figures followed similar decreases in the two preceding months.  It is unlikely that the fall in births is unrelated to the country’s economic outlook.  Resource allocation designed to positively influence falling fertility rates has been cut to increasingly fund military spending.  The healthcare budget is also suffering, which may have contributed to the increased mortality rate.

Forbes comments that:

During the 1990′s Russians conclusively proved that, when they feel threatened by the economic environment, they will postpone or forgo family formation. What’s happening now isn’t nearly as serious as the 1990′s crisis, but it clearly is a come-down from the economic performance of recent years. Given that, the January 2015 data isn’t a mystery or a puzzle: with rising inflation, slowing growth, and increasing unemployment we would expect to see a deterioration in the demographic fundamentals. Unless the Russian government can get a handle on the economic situation, experience would suggest that the hard-won gains of recent years will slowly melt away.

Perhaps Putin should think about this before allocating money to egotistical military goals, lest he find himself dealing with a disappearing populous at home. However, though it might put them off having children, politically the world should remain wary of Russia’s ability to handle suffering, economic or otherwise.  One only has to look at their performance against Germany in World War II amid intense deprivation and against the odds to see that they are historically a resilient nation used to having it tough. 

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...