Saturday, December 3, 2016

Despite Fertility Uptick, Russia Seen Losing 300,000 in Population Every Year in the Future

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 3 – In his message to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin proudly pointed to the increase from 1.7 to 1.78 children per 1,000 women, a figure still below replacement levels, as a triumph of his pro-natalist policies; but declines in the number of women of child-bearing age means Russia will soon have 300,000 fewer births than deaths each year.

            That figure means that Russia will lose almost a million people in total population every three years unless it compensates for that natural decrease by dramatically increasing the number of gastarbeiters from Central Asia and the Caucasus living there, something polls show that most Russians vehemently oppose.

            And while Putin celebrated the fact that the figure of 1.78 means that the Russian fertility rate is now higher than in Portugal and many other European countries, the Kremlin leader said nothing about the other part of this equation: Russia has higher mortality rates among men than any European country and many non-Western ones as well.

            In a commentary for the Svobodnaya pressa portal, Aleksey Polubota in effect fact checks the Russian president by providing a broader set of data that shows a far less bright picture than the one Putin sought to paint and that his government-controlled media are promoting (

                He notes that in October, the number of births fell by 11 percent from a year earlier, and that in two other months, the decline had equaled eight percent.  And he noted that the number of marriages had fallen by 13 percent over the first ten months of 2016. He argues this makes further declines in the number of children per woman likely.

                Polubota spoke with two analysts, one, Yury Krupnov, a demographer at the Moscow Institute of Demography, Migration, and Regional Development,who shares his own view that Russia is on the way to a demographic collapse, and a second, Vladimir Timakov of the Russian Popular Assembly, which is close to the Kremlin, who has a rosier view of the current situation and the future.

            Krupnov said that indeed there had been a slight uptick in fertility rates this year as Putin said but argued that “already next year, there will be a serious decline in fertility in Russia.” By the middle of the 2020s, he predicted, Russia will be losing “approximately 300,000 people a year.”

            “It is an interesting question,” he suggested, as to how Russia’s leaders will explain that: “By the machinations of a new ‘Obama’ perhaps?” Russia needs to face up to the fact that it is in the midst of “a demographic catastrophe” in which the ethnic Russians will lose the most and in which “the very existence of the country at least in its current borders will be threatened.”

            Timakov disagreed. He said that demography seldom follows the projections people make for very long, that increases in mortality or declines in fertility that many see pointing to disaster often change after a short time. And consequently, he said, he doesn’t sense that the current economic crisis will have serious long-term demographic consequences.

            In response to the 2008 crisis, Catholic Europeans cut back in the number of children they had, but in Orthodox Eastern Europe, including Russia, that didn’t happen because people in that region are “used to more serious shocks than the West Europeans are and take them in stride.”

            He also disagreed with the idea that the balance between ethnic Russians and non-Russians is shifting against the latter. According to him, Russian regions and regions close to Russia’s in culture are responsible for most of the population growth while the non-Russians in the North Caucasus are seeing their fertility rates fall to Russian levels.

Moscow Worried about Islamist-Based Instability Just Over the Border in Northern Kazakhstan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 3 – Despite Astana’s harsh crack down following terrorist incidents in Aktyubinsk in June, radical Islamists are continuing to increase in number in Kazakhstan and worryingly not just in Kazakh-majority regions but in those which have long been dominated by Russian speakers, according to Aleksandr Shustov.

            And development means, the historian writes in the current issue of the influential “Voyenno-promyshlenny kuryer,” Russia now faces the risks of having “an increase in instability along the longest land border in the world and the ensuing export of radicals from there into adjoining regions of Russia” (

            Salafi Islam is something new for Kazakhstan, but it has spread quickly not only because the infrastructure of traditional Islam in the form of mosques and medrassahs was relatively small but because the Kazakh authorities allowed foundations from Muslim countries in the Middle East to come in and operate quite freely, Shustov says.
            Indeed, he notes, so tolerant were Kazakhstan officials that in the early 1990s, some of them even considered the possibility of introducing Arab language instruction in the schools of the republic, although that idea was eventually rejected.  Nonetheless the Arabization of Islam grew rapidly.
            One result of that, the historian continues, has been the rise of radical groups financed from abroad such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Jamaat of Mujahids of Central Asia, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Tabligi jamaat, Zhizhul Mahdi, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, and the Organization for the Liberation of Eastern Turkestan.
            The Kazakhstan authorities now acknowledge that there are some 15,000 active Salafis in their country, and in the wake of the Aktyubinsk terrorist actions, they have begun to apply harsher measures against them, over the objections of the US and its foundations which favor using educational methods, Shustov says.
            Most of Kazakhstan’s Salafis live in the southern and western regions of that country, he adds; and they are still relatively rare in the north and northeastern areas which are predominantly Russian-speaking.  But recently, their numbers there have jumped and now form perhaps 10 percent of all Salafis in Kazakhstan, although officials downplay this trend.
            Shustov says that “the growing influence of Salafism among elite groups” in Kazakkhstan is especially worrisome. Increasingly, they pray in mosques and are exposed to radical ideas.  At the same time, they are encouraged by the West not to use force against the radicals but rather to try to re-educate them, despite the lack of evidence that this works.
            If Salafism continues to grow in Kazakhstan, it could destabilize that country. But it could also pose a direct threat to Russia itself.  “The growth of its influence in the western and northern oblasts of the republic are creating a threat to neighboring Russian regions of the Volga, the Urals and Western Siberia.”
            That is where, Shustov reminds his readers, is “concentrated a significant part” of the country’s industrial capacity, including not unimportantly, its military factories.
            “The strengthening of the radicals inevitably will provoke a wave of emigration of the Russian and Russian-speaking population which will threaten Kazakhstan with the loss of its status as the most Slavic country” in Central Asia and also “intensify the processes of its Islamization.”
            And Shustov concludes: “As a result, we could get on the Kazakhstan border an enormous zone of instability which would divert [Russia’s] military resources from other directions.”

Russian Blue Water Navy in Reality Now Numbers Fewer than 50 Ships, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 3 – The Russian defense ministry has told China and the world that it has 100 ships on the world’s blue water oceans ( and, but military experts say that the actual number now is only about half of that and is too geographically divided to meet its challenges.

            Anton Mardasov, a journalist for the Svobodnaya pressa portal, interviewed three Russian defense experts to get their views on the actual numbers of the Russian blue water navy and on whether Russians should be concerned or not about them now and in the future (

                According to Konstantin Sivkov, a retired Russian navy captain, there are now only about ten Russian surface ships on patrol far from Russia’s shores.  “That is the reality,” he says, adding that he “can’t imagine” 100 Russian ships being on patrol far from their bases for any significant period of time.

            The Pacific fleet could offer “a maximum of four to six” ships for such a purpose at any one time, Sivkov continues. The Baltic about the same, the Black Sea four or five and the Baltic two or three. In all, “about 30 ships.” If pressed, that figure could rise to 40 but in no way to the 100 Moscow is claiming.

            There is a way to get to that statistic, however. If one adds support ships and also those around Kamchatka, then the higher figure may be appropriate, but only for short periods at that. The real number of Russian ships “capable of conducting active military maneuvers unfortunately is small.”

            Andrey Frolov, editor of Russia’s “Eksport vooruzhenyy” journal, agrees and adds that “there is a risk that the process [of expanding the fleet about which Moscow has talked so much in recent years] may be slowing down.”  Construction of three frigates, for example, has stopped because Moscow can’t get the turbines it needs from Ukraine.

            And Aleksandr Kharmchikhin, the deputy director of Moscow’s Institute for Political and Military Analysis, says he will accept the 100 figure only if it includes all support ships, underwater vessels, and others that may at least for short periods be capable of moving into blue water oceans.

            But even if one does that, it must be remembered that at any one time, many of these will be undergoing repairs and thus not available for deployment.  In the Pacific fleet, for instance, six major surface vessels are now undergoing major overhauls and won’t be ready to return to service for some time.

            Because of Russia’s fleet is so subdivided in components distant from one another, it makes no sense to compare its overall numbers with those of other countries, Kharmchikhin says; but that means the problem is even worse: 100 ships is far too small a number but will be hard to change because of high costs and dependence on imports.

            Thus, the situation with regard to the Russian fleet is “far worse” than that in other branches of the military, he concludes. Russia’s submarine fleet can compare with that of the US but its surface fleet can’t and won’t be able to for some time.

            Comparisons with China are more important because Beijing “can provide a much longer presence [on the blue water oceans] that [Russia] can.” The only thing that may give Moscow some hope is that China has no record of involvement in wars far from its homeland and “the Chinese still haven’t become accustomed to their own strength.”