By Paul Goble
The horrific increase in mortality rates among Russians, only part of which is the product of the coronavirus pandemic, pushed Russia in 2020 into the worst demographic decline since World War II and figures for the first months of this year suggest that that decline is continuing, Aleksandr Zhelenin says.
Indeed, if the rates registered since the start of this year continue, Russia will stand to suffer one million more deaths than births, a figure that there is little or no chance the return of migrant workers will compensate for and that could further accelerate the decline as it will produce a smaller cohort of potential mothers (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/04/10/1896549.html).
In February 2021, the Rosbalt commentator says, deaths outnumbered births by 70,500, more than twice the figure of the corresponding month a year earlier when the gap was 34,700. The January 2021 figure was even worse: an excess of 113,200 deaths over births, more than 2.5 times the January 2020 figure of 45,300.
“If the population of Russia continues to contract at these rates,” Zhelenin says, “then the results for 2021 may set a sad record: It is not excluded that this figure could exceed one million people.” That is far more than was the case in the 1990s, and the most since World War II.
Of course, at that time no one could call the losses of the war “’natural,’” the commentator says. And that makes the current peacetime losses even more disturbing. The government wants to blame the pandemic for all of them, but in fact, while the coronavirus had an impact, it was to highlight the shortcomings of the medical system as reformed by Putin.
“The main cause of such a dramatic decrease in the population of Russia [in 2020] became sharply rising mortality.” Fertility declined as well but by a far smaller amount. In 2020, Rosstat says, 2,124,000 Russians died, 324,000 more than the year before and only slightly fewer than the 2,129,000 in 1993.
Obviously, the coronavirus played a role but more indirectly than directly. The excess deaths Russia suffered because of its impact in fact were “the result of all the preceding policy of the leadership in the system of healthcare, which ever more has acquired a purely decorative aspect” given Putin’s cutbacks carried out in the name of “optimization.”
And therefore, when thinking about what is going one, it is important not to blame everything on the pandemic as the Kremlin does, Zhelenin says. “Covid only highlighted what our medical care has been converted into,” a system which gives positive results on paper or the computer screen but a demographic catastrophe in real life.