Sunday, October 08, 2006

Russia's Population is Dying

Today's Los Angeles Times has a fascinating piece on the steady but lethal deterioration of the Russian population:

Russia is rapidly losing population.

Its people are succumbing to one of the world's fastest-growing AIDS epidemics, resurgent tuberculosis, rampant cardiovascular disease, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, suicide and the lethal effects of unchecked industrial pollution.

In addition, abortions outpaced births last year by more than 100,000. An estimated 10 million Russians of reproductive age are sterile because of botched abortions or poor health. The public healthcare system is collapsing. And many parents in more prosperous urban areas say they can't afford homes large enough for the number of children they'd like to have.

The former Soviet Union, with almost 300 million people, was the world's third-most populous country, behind China and India. Slightly more than half of its citizens lived in Russia. The country has lost the equivalent of a city of 700,000 people every year since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, only partially offset by an influx of people from other former Soviet republics.

A country that sprawls across one-eighth of the globe is now home to 142 million people.

The losses have been disproportionately male. At the height of its power, the Soviet Union's people lived almost as long as Americans. But now, the average Russian man can expect to live about 59 years, 16 years less than an American man and 14 less than a Russian woman.

Sergei Mironov, chairman of the upper house of Russia's parliament, said last year that if the trend didn't change, the population would fall to 52 million by 2080."

There will no longer be a great Russia," he said. "It will be torn apart piece by piece, and finally cease to exist."

That may be an overstatement, but there are serious questions about whether Russia will be able to hold on to its lands along the border with China or field an army, let alone a workforce to support the ill and the elderly.

The government, flush with revenue from record prices for the country's oil exports, has started to respond. President Vladimir V. Putin this year pledged payments of $111 a month to mothers who elected to have a second child, plus a nest egg of $9,260 to be used for education, a mortgage or pensions. He also called for renewed efforts to attract ethnic Russians still living in the former Soviet republics."

Russia has a huge territory, the largest territory in the world," Putin said. "If the situation remains unchanged, there will simply be no one to protect it."
This is a striking development. Just 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, it's just amazing to realize how utter the collapse of the old Soviet order has been. At times the Soviets outpaced the U.S. in technological development, especially around the time of the
Sputnik crisis, which was a catalyst for the shift in American politics and society toward full national mobilization in the emerging Cold War struggle. There were times throughout that epochal period when the Soviets were on the march worldwide, and many Third World nations saw Soviet Communism as the wave of the future.

Things turned around after a series of setbacks for the Soviets in the 1980s (like the Afghanistan debacle and the collapse of Soviet economic competitiveness). The United States, moreover, emerged ever the stronger that decade under the staunch anti-Communist leadership of President Ronald Reagan. And it was Reagan's policies -- more and more scholars are coming to realize -- that were a highly significant factor in the collapse of Soviet power.

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