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#4 - JRL 7139
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
No. 61
March 28, 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
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.
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