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RIA Novosti
October 12, 2007
The number one national project

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Maxim Krans) - The authors of the concept of Russia's demographic policy until 2025, endorsed by President Putin on Thursday, hope that it will overcome the alarming trend towards the reduction of the country's population in the last few decades.

The situation is very serious. A new baby is born every 21 seconds and one person dies every 15 seconds. Every hour Russia loses about a hundred people and every year from 800,000 to 900,000 people.

In the UN optimistic forecast, by the middle century Russia will have 113 million left; the pessimists put this figure at a mere 96 million.

In his recent address to the Council of the Russian Public Chamber, the president mentioned three components of the program to improve the demographic situation - increase the birth rate, lower the death rate and encourage migration.

All three directions are reflected in the government-endorsed concept. It has three stages. The goal for the first three to four years is to tangibly reduce the death rate; by 2015, to stabilize the number of the population at 140 million people (now there are 141.9 million in Russia); at the third stage, to bring the population to 145 million and increase the average life span from the current 66 years to 70.

Naturally enough, some directions of the concept coincide with the Health Priority National Project and the Federal Program "Children of Russia." In this sense, the concept's implementation has already got underway. To save babies' lives, the plan provides for the construction of 23 high-technology prenatal centers in the near future. The introduced birth certificates and subsidies for mothers will encourage young families to have children.

Last week, the Duma adopted in the first reading a bill which has increased the monthly maternity allowance to 23,400 rubles. But these are details. The concept is called upon to elaborate a streamlined state demographic policy. Until recently, Russia had none.

The document pays special attention to migration. The high rates of depopulation may negatively affect the Russian economy. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade maintains that in a few years Russia will be badly short of the able-bodied population. This shortage is already felt in some industries. The only way out is to encourage migration.

Member of the Federation Council Vladimir Slutsker noted: "Russia can no longer live without migrants. Our able-bodied population has started to decline, while the demand for manpower to carry out large-scale economic projects has gone up."

Specialists from the Center for Human Demography and Ecology, Russia should accept 700,000 people a year now, and up to 1.2 million-1.3 million by 2035 in order to reduce lack of personnel. These figures take into account the illegal guest workers - from 5 million to 10 million as of today. In this context, the concept provides for the involvement of migrants "in line with the requirements of demographic, social and economic development," and for their social adaptation and integration.

The document is not big - some thirty pages all in all. This is not a detailed program but, as First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev put it, "an ideological document" with strategic goals for the foreseeable future. This is why the president has instructed the government to compile and endorse in the next three months a detailed plan of action for the next three years and a budget required for its implementation.

This country should have adopted such a program long ago, in the Soviet times, when a trend towards a population decline took shape. Even in the 1980s the growth of the population was largely sustained by Central Asia and the South Caucasus. Today, a decline in the population has reached a critical level and threatens Russia's existence.

Therefore, there is every reason to say that the new long-term demographic program will become the number one priority for Russia for decades to come.