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Demographic Decline Impacts Russian Federation Stability

(Washington, DC--June 14, 2002) A security and defense expert told an RFE/RL audience last week that Russia's uneven demographic decline combined with internal migration patterns is creating an increasingly unstable Russian Federation.

Dr. Graeme P. Herd, Deputy Director of the Scottish Centre for International Security said that federal policy will be driven increasingly by "Slavic concerns." Herd noted that the Russian Federation as a whole is experiencing an "unprecedented decline" in population, while internal migrants--mostly orthodox Slavs--are flocking to Moscow and the "core" of European Russia. As the rest of the Russian Federation is not only depopulated but also "de-russified", Herd said these migrants would fuel the "recentralization of power and reduction of sovereignty in the regions" that is already occurring under President Vladimir Putin. The question for Herd is whether this "asymmetry in political representation" will "radicalize" the non-Russian population.

Russia is faced with multiple security challenges growing out of its demographic decline, Herd said. Although the first census in Russia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union will only be conducted in October 2002, survey data from various regions, ministries and economic sectors show that the quality of the labor force is also declining. Some health researchers and international health organizations already refer to Russia as an "epidemiological pump", Herd said, with staggering rates of untreated HIV/AIDS, drug-resistant tuberculosis, as well as non-contagious respiratory and circulatory diseases.

Increasingly plagued by disease, poor nutrition and a lack of education, Herd said that Russian defense industries will have a shortfall of qualified workers. The Siberian knowledge-based economy is collapsing as "nested communities" near former Soviet military bases are depopulated. Herd added that the average age of defense industry workers is 60 years--while males in Russia now live only an average of 58.9 years.

Herd noted that Russia will also no longer be able to field its current 1.2 million man conscript-based armed forces, because the pool of conscripts by 2015 will have shrunk by one-third. Having to end its reliance on mass military mobilization, the Russian government will either adopt a volunteer/professional army model or hire a contract army. Herd suggested that, if Russia's economy is too weak to support a voluntary army, there will be more reliance on Russia's tactical nuclear weapons.

"If an economic miracle happens", Herd said, the central government could provide subsidies to re-populate the Russian Federation's northern territories and Far East, or encourage the Slavic diaspora to return to Russia. The Russian government estimates there are over 500,000 illegal Russian migrants in western countries.