Fact Checking Russian Demographics

When I was a kid I remember looking at the Soviet Union on a big world wall map and wondering how we would ever survive if a country that big was our enemy. Evidently, a lot of people who grew up during the Cold War never got over the trauma. For them, Russia will always be the enemy. When she sent troops into South Ossetia in response to Georgia’s attack on that province’s capital city with area effect weapons, they took it as proof that she was only waiting for some flimsy pretext to send her hordes pouring forth over eastern Europe. For them, such childish provocations as planting batteries of useless missile defense systems just outside her borders “to defend against an attack from Iran” represented the apex of political sagacity. They will never change. One must resign oneself to waiting until they finally die, and are replaced by a new generation that will, perhaps, at least have the virtue of choosing a more reasonable enemy.

Meanwhile, they can count our ever-charming Vice President among their number. In an interview he gave to the Wall Street Journal he said:

Russians…have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.

Her obituary has been proclaimed in similar terms by a host of pundits. They might do well to take a look at what Anatoly Karlin at Russia Blog has to say about the matter before leaping to conclusions. It may turn out that, in the words of Mark Twain, the reports of Russia’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. For example, as Anatoly points out,

As of 2008 there were 362,000 more deaths than births in Russia, down from 847,000 in 2005. Furthermore, adding in migration would give a total population loss of just 105,000 people in 2008, equivalent to -0.07% of the population, which is a massive improvement from the 721,000 fall in 2005. The situation continued improving in 2009 despite the economic crisis, with Russia seeing positive natural increase in August and September for the first time in 15 years.

Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR) has risen from a nadir of 1.16 children per women in 1999, to 1.49 children in 2008 (and thus also breaking the “lowest-low” fertility hypothesis that states that no society has ever recovered from a fertility collapse to below 1.30 children). The figures for 2009 will almost certainly show a TFR above 1.50.

(In response to the claim that the Russian far east is being overwhelmed by Chinese immigrants.) There are no more than 0.4-0.5mn Chinese in Russia (and probably a good deal less). The vast majority of them are temporary workers and seasonal traders who have no long-term plans of settling in Russia. Even though the Russia Far East depopulated much faster than the rest of Russia after the Soviet collapse, at more than 6mn today, Russian citizens remain ethnically dominant.

and so on. Karlin provides links for these and many other assertions about Russian demographics that counter the prevailing wisdom in the West. Read the whole thing.

If Russia’s population really does level off at something between 120 and 150 million, it seems to me history will have presented her with a golden opportunity. She has but to take advantage of it. If global warming becomes a reality, she may actually benefit from the change. That, and all the other potentially devastating environmental problems we face will be more or less severe depending on the size of human populations and their rate of increase. If Russia can somehow manage to avoid the suicidal tendency of the United States and the countries of western Europe to allow themselves to be inundated by waves of culturally alien immigrants, she can be one of the world’s big winners in the decades to come. Will it really be impossible for her to resist encroachment with such a relatively small population? I suspect that, with thousands of weapons in her nuclear arsenal, she will have a fighting chance.

I, for one, wish her well. She did, after all, absorb the blows of the Mongol hordes, and helped to break the back of the Turkish advance into Europe. She stopped Napoleon and Hitler, and then shed an ocean of blood to demonstrate to the western inventors of Communism that their brilliant idea didn’t work. Surely no one will begrudge her a little peace and quiet for a while, and perhaps, to stretch a point, even a measure of prosperity.

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