A few months ago I discussed whether or not Russia could remain as a great power with its demographic issues. This may be very important to note both in terms of trying to figure out what Russia is up to in Syria and in its near abroad. Assessing the actual power of Russia (rather than its apparent power) involves looking at its population decline.
The last decade or so has seen Russia’s population stabilise at about 144 million. This has been helped by an injection of an extra two million people or so from the Crimean peninsula. However, this stabilisation seems to be over for now and the downward population slide that was characteristic of Russia in the years 1990-2005 seems to be back. According to the Moscow Times, the first half of 2018 has seen the Russian population decline by nearly 92,000 people (or a yearly decrease of a bit over 0.1 per cent) according to the Rosstat statistics agency. Now this is not a huge decrease, but the ending of a population stability is an event to be noted. Also to be noted is the fact that migration, which has propped up Russia’s declining population in the past (like so many other nations facing natural population decline), has failed to do so for the first half of 2018. Mortality rates rose in 54 of Russia’s 85 regions, while the birth rate of 10.9 births per 1,000 people for the first half of 2018 represents a yet further decline in this figure: it has consistently declined since 2011. Finally, the 1.69 million babies born in 2017 marked the lowest number since 2007.
These figures seem to suggest that the baby slump in the years after the breakup of the USSR are coming back to haunt the 2018 figures. The babies (or lack thereof) in the early 1990s are now entering prime childbearing years – but there are fewer women in this age group now and so the number of babies that they are in turn having is fewer than those that immediately preceded them. The UN’s prediction that Russia’s population will drop by 11 million by 2050 is looking increasingly likely. Russia’s decade of population stability seems to be over.