December 24, 2012

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Putin Whistles In The Dark As Russia Declines:

President Putin is doing his best to spin the numbers on Russian demography. After catastrophic declines in population since the death of the Soviet Union, Russia saw births outnumber deaths last year and, temporarily, the demographic numbers look better. As the Financial Times reports, the ebullient sounding President remarked that the solution to Russia’s demographic problmes ar at home: “Our women know what to do, and when,” he remarked.

In 2012, births outnumbered deaths in Russia from January through September — the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that this has happened. Putin would like to claim this as a long term trend that could reverse Russia’s geopolitical slide, but there are two reasons for doubting that the baby boomlet means what he says it does.

The first is numbers: demographers note that the increase in Russian births this year reflects the coming of age of the relatively large generation of Russian millennials. These children of the optimistic perestroika years are now having children. Russia had something of a baby boom in those joyous and optimistic late Soviet days when the doors to a better life seemed to be opening wide. As the privations, lawlessness and social collapse of the ensuing era appeared, Russian women cut back on child bearing and once the echo of the perestroika baby boom fades away, Russia is looking at decades of shrinking numbers of women of child bearing years. The demographic good news is a blip, not a trend.

Much worse from President Putin’s point of view, one suspects, is the question — not addressed in the FT article or mentioned much in polite company in Russia — of just who is having babies in Russia today.

Read the whole thing.