2021 Census Worst In Russian History: Exacerbating Country’s Descent Into ‘Statistical Chaos’ – OpEd


Censuses, if they are conducted in a good way, can provide information critically needed by both the government and the population, Aleksey Raksha says. “But in Russia after the collapse of the USSR, they haven’t been and the 2021 census was the most badly conducted in the entire history of the Russian state.”

Many people are simply ignoring the figures there and producing their own, often without any good basis; and these moves, along with Moscow’s increasingly restricted release of information, mean that Russia will soon be in the place where Belarus already is: a country “where nothing is known for sure” (cherta.media/interview/my-v-xaose/).

Evidence of this statistical collapse, the independent demographer says, comes in many forms. One of the clearest is the enormous range of figures that various people offer for the same phenomenon. Thus, for example, some say that 16 percent of those who left Russia after the start of the war in Ukraine have returned while others say the figure is 80 percent.

The first is certainly too low, and the second is equally certainly too high, Raksha says. But there is no public data available that allows any independent observer to know what the real figure is. The FSB should know, but the government has reduced its publication of data and information from many of the countries to which Russians have gone is unreliable.

Raksha makes three other important observations about the statistical “chaos” the Putin regime has thrown Russia into. First, one month after Putin launched his war in Ukraine, the Russian state statistical agency Rosstat stopped publishing mortality data broken down by gender, age and region, thereby depriving researchers of data on war losses.

There are workarounds but they are inadequate and controversial, he continues, adding that sometime this month, Rosstat is supposed to publish an annual report on mortality. If that report in fact appears, it should shed some light on losses, which by the end of the year will be 100,000 or more.

Moreover, if Russia does have another census in 2031 as it is supposed to, that figure as large and horrific as it is will be impossible to break out from more general mortality figures over a decade given that it is “still hundreds of times less” than the one for the USSR in World War II.

Second, while one can’t be certain, it is possible that more Ukrainians may have fled into the Russian Federation than the number of Russians who fled abroad to avoid serving in the war. If so, Raksha says, that would mean that the Russian Federation might actually have gotten a demographic boost from the conflict.

And third, he says that no one should use the figures the government is about the population of the newly annexed regions of Ukraine. No more than four million people now live there, half or only a third of the number who did before the Russian invasion and annexation process began.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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