#4 - JRL 7139 Nezavisimaya Gazeta No. 61 March 28, 2003 [translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only] RUSSIA: DEMOGRAPHY HITS ECONOMY In the next few years the declining birth rate will bring grave consequences to the Russian state By Nikolai GLUSHKOV, Cand. Sc. (Physics and Mathematics) Between January 1 and December 1, 2001, according to official statistics, the population of the Russian Federation diminished by 781,800 people-103,700 people more than in the same period of 2000. In the majority of Russian regions, the decrease was a result of natural population loss, or, to put it differently, the prevalence of the death rate over the birth rate - a tendency that had set in in the late 1980s. Some experts connect it with the "badly planned and anti-national" character of reforms. This viewpoint, however, indicates a one-sided approach to demography. We obviously tend to disregard the fact that not only does demography depend on economy, but economy directly depends on demography (on the state of human resources, to put it differently) as well. It is known that a birth rate decline was registered in the USA earlier than in Russia. The difference is that in the USA, the decline has been leveled out by active immigration, which mostly affected the educated layers of society. Russia, however, has fewer opportunities, so the population decline we are witnessing took on the character of a demographic catastrophe. About 100,000 people leave Russia every year. As of today, around 3 million Russian-speaking natives of the former Soviet Union reside in the USA - for the most part, those are qualified specialists who failed to find decent jobs at home. But then the numbers of refugees and migrants from the former Soviet republics that moved to Russia in recent years grew like an avalanche. In the period between 1991 and 2000, migration added 1.57 million people to the population of the Russian Federation. The majority of the migrants, however, are a declassed mass, people with no education who tend to live at the expense of the state or join criminal gangs rather than fill the ranks of qualified manpower. What we see in Russia is a relative aging of the aboriginal population, which added to low life expectancy may eventually sharply reduce the population. It seems that the country cannot afford to waste time discussing how to stimulate the birth rate. The problem has to be solved right now. There is yet another aspect to the problem - geography. For a country that occupies a territory of 17.1 million square kilometers and is traditionally sparsely populated, a sharp population decrease means destruction of the territorial infrastructure, which in its turn threatens the country's economic security. Already today, masses of immigrants from neighboring countries are aiming at our vacant lands. Such immigration goes beyond simple replenishment of Russia's human resources potential. It is a cultural and global political expansion fraught with a loss of territories and influence as well as with heavy economic losses. As of today, every woman in Russia bears an average of 1.2 children, while the figure needed for simple reproduction of the population is 2.15 children. In some regions of the European part of Russia, the cumulative rate is 1.0 children per woman. In earlier times, the average figures were somewhat leveled out thanks to the high birth rate in Russian villages; today however, the birth rates among the rural and urban population are close to similar. Results of a survey conducted by the Obshchestvennoye Mneniye Foundation show that only one-third of respondents aged between 18 and 35 are planning to have a child. 50% of this age group are not planning to have children immediately. Even if the death rate declines, the pressure of the democratic factor on the Russian economy will ease only for a short while. Moreover, simultaneous decline in the birth rate and high life expectancy will eventually cause additional problems, no matter how cynical this may sound. The demographic burden on able-bodied citizens will increase, and so will the burden on the healthcare system (which is far from perfect as it is). There will be problems with pensions and social grants. Therefore, the only way out of a demographic catastrophe, which will inevitably bring about a sharp decrease of the country's economic potential, is to solve the birth problem. Where shall we be if we keep dilly-dallying with the issue? Firstly, the birth crisis may result in a lack of the able-bodied population that is necessary to handle issues dealing with the state system and keep the country's infrastructure going. Between 2001 and 2016, the population of Siberia and the Far East will drop by 7.6% and that of the northern territories or similar areas by 12.0%. The population density in the Asian part of the Federation and in border districts will be reduced, too, which means a threat to the national security and territorial integrity of Russia. Low birth rate also weakens the defensive potential since it might be difficult to keep up the strength of the army and the number of people engaged in the defense industry. No wonder the authorities consider the forming of a professional army one of their priorities. One of the reasons is that the number of potential conscripts keeps falling. Secondly, and this is very important, absolutely every branch of the Russian economy will soon have to face an acute shortage of manpower. The same goes for abstract and applied sciences, all social institutions, and law enforcement agencies. By the year 2005, according to forecasts, the country will begin to feel a lack of young people capable of studying in higher educational establishments - that is, the current birth rate threatens to drain the blood out of the country's intellectual potential. Thirdly, Russia is facing the danger of losing the aboriginal population as the carriers of a certain culture, religion, and values. What we will have then will be a simple prevalence of immigrants substituting for the spirit of the state, whose image, culture and geopolitical role will be utterly changed.