By Paul Goble
The recipes Moscow has used to cope with Russia’s demographic decline in the past – opening its borders to more migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus and seeking to attract Russian compatriots abroad home – “have ceased to work,” economist Yevgeny Gontmakher says.
Some possibilities remain in each of these, of course, the Moscow analyst says; but the harsh reality is that Moscow can no longer count on them alone and must instead invest more in its own population, an approach at odds with the Kremlin’s now but one that would make the country a more attractive destination (mk.ru/economics/2021/07/12/prezhnie-recepty-protiv-demograficheskikh-bed-rossii-perestali-rabotat.html).
Russia’s population is declining even with immigration because the fall in the first is greater than the numbers from the second compensate, Gontmakher says. As a result, some Russians have proposed “doubtful” remedies in order that population density doesn’t fall to a point threatening national security.
Moscow has been offering free land to those who are prepared to move to the Far East or the North, something few of them want to do. And Russian compatriots who were ready to return already have. The remainder largely don’t want to. In any case, Moscow can’t count on massive numbers from them or from Central Asians.
According to Gontmakher, “statistics confirm the fact of the gradual exhaustion of the external resources for increasing the population of Russia. If in 2011 we received from migration 320,000 new citizens,” now and the future, the country will never reach that level again. In some years, the number may be less than 150,000.
What this means, the economist says, is that Russia should “in the next few years if not decades devote its main efforts to the development of the country by operating on the maximum effectiveness of using the human potential it already has” by investing in education and healthcare, promoting entrepreneurialism, and reviving local self-administration.
Unfortunately, that would require a fundamental shift in government policy. It would be best if the regime would choose to move in that direction. Otherwise, it may be compelled to at a time when the changeover will be more difficult or, by not taking action, doom the country to stagnation or worse.
In all this, both ordinary Russians and their rulers need to recognize that mmigrant workers aren’t a panacea either. Most of them leave their families at home and send money to them. Russia will have to change for more of them to want to link their fates with it rather than simply use it as a place to earn money and then leave.