By Paul Goble
The outflow of ethnic Russians from the republics of the North Caucasus over the last 50 years and especially over the last 25 means that they now have declined to the number who were there in the mid-1930s, according to Russian demographer Sergey Sushchy.
Unless radical steps are taken, steps that would require enormous investments in plants and infrastructure, the scholar at the Southern Academic Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences argues, Russians will continue to decline and may face “demographic collapse” by 2060 (demreview.hse.ru/data/2017/12/21/1161328913/1DemRev_4_3_2017.pdf).
That is, the continuing departure of ethnic Russians combined with the aging of the remaining ethnic Russians who will thus have fewer and fewer children means that Russians will form ever smaller communities across the entire region, much as they now do in Chechnya where they form only 14,000 of the civilian population.
By mid-century, as a result of outmigration of ethnic Russians, their numbers will decline by half under most projections, and then they are likely to collapse because by mid-century, as many as 40 percent of the remaining ethnic Russians will be pensioners incapable of having children and likely to return to ethnic Russian areas.
In 1926, there were 391,000 ethnic Russians in the region. By 1939, that number had risen to 973,000; and by 1970, to 1,436,000. Since that time, it has fallen, to 1,331,000 in 1989, and to 995,000 in 2010. Looking forward, Sushchy says, it is likely to continue to fall to between 690,000 and 780,000 in 2030 and to between 490,000 and 700,000 in 2050.
Sushchy entitles his article in the latest issue of Demograficheskoye obozreniye, “The Russians in the Republics of the North Caucasus – Signs of Geo-Demographic Retreat (the First Half of the 21st Century),” and his conclusions suggest the Russian “retreat” from the area will continue as far into the future as one can see.
Obviously, demography is not destiny except in the very long term. But a North Caucasus without a significant ethnic Russian population will be difficult if not impossible for Moscow to retain – and the prospect that ethnic Russians there are going to be ever less numerous will undoubtedly help power new ethno-national and religious movements for independence.