Putin is trying to solve demographic problems with war
Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute explained that the main problem is that the birth rate in Russia is only 1.5 children per woman – well below the level of generational replacement (two children per woman).
This number is not particularly low compared to other developed countries. But Russia also has an extremely high mortality rate, especially among men, from cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, strokes, etc.) and trauma (murder, suicide, accidents). Given the level of income and education in the country, the death rate in Russia from both causes is several times higher than expected. This can be explained by Russia’s poor healthcare system, environmental pollution, high levels of drunkenness and drug addiction, which in turn are a sign of desperation.
In recent years, the already high death rate in Russia has skyrocketed. According to The Economist, there were between 1.2 and 1.6 million additional deaths in Russia during the COVID-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2023. If so, that means Russia has had more deaths from the coronavirus than the United States, which has more than twice its population.
Then, last year, Russia lost between 60,000 and 70,000 lives fighting in Ukraine, more than in all other wars since 1945 combined. “The average number of Russian soldiers killed per month is at least 25 times higher than the number killed per month in Chechnya and 35 times higher than the number killed in Afghanistan,” reports the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And since the beginning of the war, between 500,000 and 1 million Russians have fled the country, most of them young and educated. Men are clearly lacking in Moscow.
Russia’s population decline is expected to continue, falling to 135 million by 2050 and 126 million by 2100. Russia is now the world’s ninth largest country by population, and it is projected that by the end of the century, population will fall to 22 million. Russia’s days as a great power are numbered.
Putin is well aware of the problem and talks about it constantly. In September 2021, he lamented that Russia would now be home to 500 million people had it not been for the loss of the Russian Empire after the 1917 revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which he called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” “.
He tried in vain to reverse the trend in all the usual ways, from offering citizens financial incentives to have more children, to trying to lure immigrants from Central Asia. And even his invasion of Ukraine can be seen as a desperate gambit to increase the Russian population.
Russia occupies Ukrainian territories that were once inhabited by 8 million people, many of whom have died, fled or been deported to Russia. The fact that Russia has kidnapped at least 11,000 Ukrainian children is especially ominous in light of Russia’s child shortage. If you’re worried about population decline, maybe conquering the 40 million inhabitants of a neighboring region will solve your problem?
Of course, in trying to solve the problem of the lack of people in Russia, Putin only exacerbates it. An estimated 7.2 million Russian men are between the ages of 18 and 26. Putin was able to mobilize another 300,000 troops without much difficulty last year, and another call may begin in the near future.
As for the emigrants, it can only help Putin in the short term. “The troublemakers have left, and those who remain are needed by the regime to sustain itself and the war,” says Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis.
So there is no hope that Russia’s demographic problems will lessen the threat it poses to its neighbours. Awareness of the demographic problem makes Putin even more desperate and dangerous.