Russia: Demographic Crisis Means “No One Left To Draft”

Russia is endowed with some of the greatest stores of natural resources in the world, and yet the demographic crisis that has plagued the country since the fall of the Soviet Union may leave Russia with no youth to defend their homeland.

The total life expectancy of Russia is #161 in the world, which places it behind Belarus, North Korea, and Mongolia, whereas Russia's total fertility rate is 196th in the world. Currently there are about 138 million people in Russia and many believe that if that number falls near or below 100 million, Russia will not be able to function as an industrialized nation.

In Nov. 2011, War News Update Blog posted an article from RIA Novosti entitled “Russian Military Has ‘No One Left To Draft'”:

Russia has no conscript-age young men left to recruit, Russia's chief of the General Staff complained on Thursday.

The current conscript service crisis in the Russian Armed Forces is mainly due to demographic decline, bullying and brutal treatment of conscripts.

General Nikolai Makarov said only 11.7% of young men aged 18-27 were eligible for the army service but 60% of them had health problems and could not be drafted under law.

A Russian Naval Honor Guard welcomes Navy. Adm. Mike Mullen to St. Petersburg, Russia on May 6, 2011. (Department of Defense photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released/CC BY 2.0)

A Russian Naval Honor Guard welcomes Navy. Adm. Mike Mullen to St. Petersburg, Russia on May 6, 2011. (Department of Defense photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released/CC BY 2.0)

Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences Blog posted an abstract and an introduction to a paper written by Christopher Hoeppler of McMaster University, which discussed how the fall of the Soviet Union has effected Russia's population:

The Russian Federation experienced a surge in death rates of almost 40 percent since 1992, with numbers rising from 11 to 15.5 per thousand […]. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought with it many social, political, and economic changes that continue to affect Russia to this day. Although all countries progress along the demographic transition model differently, general trends are shown. Nonetheless, Russia appears to be experiencing a unique transition of its own. Each country experiences population decline for varying reasons, such as disease diffusion as experienced by Africa with the AIDS epidemic; others can be caused by societal advancements that lead to lower fertility rates.

Population decline was evident in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, which is why it serves as an interesting case study. On the surface it is counterintuitive that the state of the country would worsen after the fall of the communist party; however it is likely that political turmoil was responsible for the onset of the demographic problem in Russia. A number of factors including economic, lifestyle, health care, and disease incidence have contributed to Russia's decrease in population. […]

Al Fin Blog contextualized several periodicals in a Nov. 2011 post entitled, “A Steady Loss of Talent Makes Russia's Demographic Collapse Worse”:

Beautiful young Russian women compete to be mail order brides for European, North American, and Australian men. Ambitious and competent young Russian men compete for overseas positions — anything to escape the dreary dead-end that Russia has come to represent to so many of its young.

One quote from The Moscow News put the emigration in its historical context:

Russia has not seen anything like it since 1917, reported. Over 1.25 million people have left in the last 10 years, the news portal reported. “The country is hemorrhaging intellectual potential,” cited political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin as saying. “The most active, the cleverest and the most mobile are leaving.”

Another quote came from World Crunch, which talked about how specifically people who possess a high level of human capital are leaving Russia:

Not for the first time, Russian scientists are taking their considerable knowledge and moving abroad. Some of the brainy emigrants cite funding problems and Russian red tape as reasons to move. For others, heading West is simply a lifestyle choice.

…Russian graduate students prefer just about any small, unknown laboratory in Europe over the brand-new Russian scientific complex [Skolkovo]. “A stable trend has been established: 100% of working young people who get the opportunity to work abroad leave Russia,” said one scientific analyst. “If a young researcher gets the opportunity to enter the international arena, he or she will do it.”

Indeed, the trend extends beyond scientists. In October, 2011, a survey found that 22% of Russian citizens in general were prepared to leave the country. The only thing that sets the scientists apart is that they tend to be much more welcome by the receiving countries. “It’s not even really about the lack of financing for scientific projects, but general quality of life,” said one of the scientists. “If regular people are not coming back to Russia, then why would scientists do so?”

Global Economy Matters Blog argued that some of the efforts made by the Russian government to address these demographic issues have been successful, quoting a Population Reference Bureau article in May 2011:

Back in 2000, Russia achieved what Russians consider a dubious milestone, deaths (2,225,300) outnumbered births (1,266,800) by an astounding 958,500. The crude birth rate had sunk to 8.7 births per 1,000 population. Along with a crude death rate of 15.3, natural increase hit an all-time low of –6.6 per 1,000, or –0.7 percent rounded off. The total fertility rate (TFR) bottomed out at 1.195 children per woman. The crisis, as it was seen to be, was definitely noticed, but nothing really effective was done until 2007 when Vladimir Putin announced a baby bonus of the equivalent of $9,000 for second and further births. Putin has been an outspoken advocate for raising the birth rate and improving health conditions in order to avoid the consequences of sustained very low fertility. The program must have worked since births in 2007 jumped to 1,610,100 from 1,479,600 the previous year and have rising ever since. This is one of the very few “success stories” in the industrialized countries’ efforts to raise the birth rate.

Some groups advocate a societal approach to curtailing population decline rather than a governmental one. International Religious Organizations have taken notice of Russia's demographic problems and have integrated them into their worldwide campaign against abortion, as illustrated by a United Families International Aug 2011 post:

“Mother Russia” is experiencing an unprecedented decline in population.  In the last 20 years, it is estimated that an astounding 80 million unborn Russian children have been aborted.  On average, a Russian woman over the course of her reproductive life will have seven abortions.

Combing that high abortion rate with a fertility rate of 1.2 (a fertility rate of 2.1 is needed for replacement of population), Russia stands to lose over one-third of its population every generation. “We’re losing almost three quarters of a million people every year,” said Alexey Komov, chairman of the Moscow Demographic Summit that was held this last June.

The post included a video produced by the Population Research Institute, which argued that government programs aimed at curtailing demographic decline date back to Caesar Augustus of Rome, but that all such programs invariably fail:

Ultimately it’s a matter of faith and spirit that determines how many children people decide to have,” said Phillip Longman, lecturer and author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity. “That’s not something the government can really do. That’s something society can do.


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