September 6, 2007


Russia's demographic crisis (Judy Dempsey, September 6, 2007, IHT)

It is a tragedy touching millions. Sixty years after World War II, Russians are dying younger in peacetime than their grandparents did under Stalin. They are having fewer children, and many are falling mortally ill from alcohol-related diseases. [...]

Since 1992, Russia's population has fallen 3 percent, to 143.8 million from 148.7 million. Other countries have experienced sharp declines over the same period - in Bosnia, the war reduced the population by 10 percent, while emigration sapped the populations of Armenia and Kazakhstan. In the case of Russia, domestic and social reasons, not war or emigration, are draining the country of its people.

"The drop in population in Russia is unprecedented among industrialized countries," said Patricio Marquez, lead health specialist for Europe and Central Asia at the World Bank and one of the authors of a new study, "Dying Too Young in the Russian Federation." Life expectancy of Russian men is below 60 years, compared with 67 years in 1985 and 63 years in the early 1950s. They are also living 16 years less on average than their male counterparts in Western Europe and 14 years less than Russian women because of their lifestyle.

A report by the World Health Organization showed that heart disease, aggravated by alcoholism and tobacco, account for more than 1.2 million deaths - nearly half the total - each year. Alcoholism, too, is one of the main reasons for road traffic accidents and injuries at the workplace. While alcoholism affects fertility, demographers said, the trend toward increased female infertility is also caused by abortions and the increase in HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

The consequences may thwart Putin's strategic ambitions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 6, 2007 9:59 AM

NPR recently ran a story on how aggressively "Nationalistic" the Russian version of the "Boy Scouts" are.

Child bearing is becoming a function of maintain the "Volk".

Russia has too many problems to be a long term threat, but in the short term both Russia and China will increasingly Fascistic and belligerent. They can make serious mischief.

Posted by: Bruno at September 6, 2007 12:19 PM

That sounds more like Nazism than "fascism"...

Posted by: Benny at September 6, 2007 12:48 PM

Bruno: How? They have no credible military and neither the manpower nor the cash to create one.

Posted by: b at September 6, 2007 12:51 PM

for themselves

Posted by: oj at September 6, 2007 2:30 PM

How? They have no credible military and neither the manpower nor the cash to create one.

Gawd - where do people become so misinformed?

First, Russia has all the cash (and then some) to establish a "credible military". Russian top-end military hardware and training is every bit as good, or better than anything the US has (possible exception being anything akin to the B-2 stealth bomber). In general, their missile technology, tanks, and top-end air-superiority craft could be all judged superior to Western equivalents.

Their problem has largely been the slowness of updating their forces due to a lack of manufacturing capacity to meet demands for both domestic and export. But the technology and cash are certainly not the problem. Russia currently has a national account balance of $105,300,000,000 (4th largest - only China, Japan, and Germany have more cash). For comparison, the United States has a national account balance of -$862,300,000,000, greatest debt of any nation by a vast amount.

If you think Russia's possible population decline from 144 million (now) to 130 million in 40 years is important in terms of military strength or "strategic ambitions" you're just plain silly. The majority of the population decline will occur within the aged portion of the population which is not of military age anyway.

Regarding that NPR story - Russia has no equivalent to the "Boy Scouts". If you are talking about Nashi (I can only assume you are), the closest equivalent would be something like the Young Republicans combined with NRA Youth programs.

Oooh, scarey. But comparing them to young Brownshirts sells newspapers and outdated stereotypes to an ignorant western populace.

Posted by: W. Shedd at September 6, 2007 3:05 PM

Dude, you're bonkers. They got their rears handed to them by the Chechens IN A STRAIGHT UP FIGHT. No insurgency was even necessary.

Your "national account balance" silliness shows your query "where do people become so misinformed" really needs to be directed inward...

Posted by: b at September 6, 2007 3:16 PM

Sorry - not about to argue with someone who is clearly is in need of a belly-button window.

However, I will quickly point out that Russia is generally accused of having gone much too far in decimating or essentially subjugating Chechnya. How you can imagine Russia was defeated there is beyond me - there is little to no signs of fighting in the region and Chechnya is certainly not independent.

No silliness to that national account balance - just straight up math that demonstrates why the U.S. economy has serious problems, particularly as regards debt.

Posted by: W. Shedd at September 6, 2007 3:43 PM

I think the "Boy Scouts" that Bruno mentioned is Nashi which is a nationalist oriented youth group that some commentators have called the Putinjugend, a play on the Hitler Youth (which replaced the Boy Scouts in Nazi Germany). Its age bracket though is more like what W Shedd mentions.

Cash alone cannot buy the Russians a formidable military. Serious reforms are needed to transform the Russian military into an effective threat. That will take years - perhaps a decade - assuming reform is pushed and not just talked about.

First, the Russian military is conscript. It is filled with many dregs as anyone with any talent or political connections does their best to not enter not. Hazing of new recruits is brutal. I am sure there are some elite units which are far better, but the vast majority is not. Putin has talked about making the army a professional volunteer service and not conscript, but I have not see much action on it.

Second, Russia lacks an effective NCO class which is the backbone of any professional army. This is a common problem for most non-Western militaries.

Third, Russian military production has serious problems - not just about capacity, but quality. Increase in Russian defense budget has not seen an increase in procurement. Instead, the same item just becomes more expensive. As an example, the Russians have not even been able to upgrade the aircrat carrier they sold to the Indians - and it looks like more delays are on the way. Because many of the defense contractors are part of Putin's silovki (former KGB officers who have replaced the oligarchs in terms of influence) network and are pocketing the extra money, we don't know if this is even seen as a problem by the Kremlin.

Fourth, much of the Russian equipment is a generation behind in military technology. Russian fighters are the equal of the 1980s era F-15s. But they are not in the same class as the F-22 or F-35 or the Eurofighter.

Fifth, Russia has severe demographic problems, as mentioned. This is not even a question of old people dying. It is new ones not being born. In addition there are severe problems with alcoholism and tuberculosis among the Russian youth. To solve these problems will take serious efforts. Nor is demography only a question of how large an army can be raised. Russia's Far East is depopulating of Russians and seeing an increase by Chinese immigrants. There is potential that Russia could lose control of a significant part of its geography (and with it natural resources).

Sixth, the actual performance of the Russian military has not been exemplar. The failure to save the Kursk, the botched rescue at Beslan, and the war in Chechnya all point to serious problems. The military performs at a level far below expectations.

Russia possesses enough destructive force to make an invasion of it dangerous (not even counting its nuclear capaibilities). They also possess enough force that it could overrun small neighbors, although any victory would be done by sheer numbers and brutality.

However, it is not a credible offensive threat to either China or NATO and saber rattling can only be taken so far.

The US, China and EU all have far larger populations and economy than Russia. Their economy is more developed. As a resource based economy, Russia is severely dependent on high oil prices. If those go down, so will Russian reserves. None of the other 3 are so dependent on one sector.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 6, 2007 3:50 PM

It's two minutes to midnight! Run for the cellars! The Soviet menace lives!

With their GDP per capita less than what you'd make at a McDonalds here, the Russians manifestly can't afford to buy a real military to replace the crappy one they have, not that it will stop them from trying. It won't be the first time they screwed themselves over with delusions of significance.

Posted by: oj at September 6, 2007 4:33 PM

The Soviets had the "Young Pioneers". It isn't a particularly new phenomenom.

W.Shedd, you contradicted yourself when you said their equipment was superior but needed to be updated. We haven't stood still with regard to that, they have. Training at the upper levels is good, but in the bulk of the forces? No. The Chechen wars proved that, and there is no indication that has truly changed any.

And as Chris Durnell pointed out and oj implied - dependency on an extraction industry for your wealth is hollow if the wealth isn't used to increase the wealth generating potential of the rest of the nation's economy, and the greatest resource any nation has is its people. If they are seeking relese through a bottle, then there are major societal problems that all the money in the world can't paper over.

Historically, Spain should have stayed on top of the world with all of the wealth pouring in from its American conquests. It didn't. The free extraction money wasn't used properly, they coasted on it. Without a work ethic and a belief in the potential worth of all citizens, it gets squandered.

When Venezuala starts dumping oil to pay for Chavez's imperial ambitions, Russia's ambitions (and the Islamofascists') will wither.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 6, 2007 5:09 PM

Oh goodie. A new troll. We haven't had one all summer.

Posted by: erp at September 6, 2007 5:28 PM

Amen to that, erp. It's been dull for some time in comment-land. Hey, W (may I call you "W"?), please stay around and play!

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at September 6, 2007 6:35 PM

I think the 1996 ceasefire is widely regarded as a Russian defeat. The use of 100,000 troops in 1999 partially redeemed the situation but Russia still has not pacified Checnya despite Nazi level brutalty.

The Russian military has some good weapons but not enough of them. Only air defense is considered good by Western standards. Their training is mediocre, their doctrine is 1940s era. Chris has already explained the conscript problem.

Mr. Russophile, what country could be successfully attacked by Russia? Georgia certainly. Ukraine? China? The NATO Baltics?

Posted by: Bob at September 6, 2007 8:30 PM

Don't worry, once Star Wars goes global, anything that flies (including these supposedly great or superior missiles, fighters, choppers, satellites) dies - thanks to Reagan, Lucas and hardworking Americans and others worldwide!

No nation can stop lasers and 15k mph kill vehicles laying waste to the air support they offer up for the classic American turkey shoot.

Posted by: KRS at September 6, 2007 10:56 PM

Does anyone remember what happened in 1982?

I believe the ratio was 70-0. And that's when Soviet equipment actually worked.

Russia has no 'top-end' military. None. Their missiles are rusting. Their navy is sinking in port. They used to design good stuff, but that was 40 years ago, and they had to base most of it on stolen Western technology. Remember the 'Buran'?

Tanks? When was the last time a Russian tank even hit a Western tank with a shell? 1991? 1973? Give me a break. Had we finished Saddam in 1991, the ratio on the battlefied would have probably been 3000-5. And that's being generous. They built good tanks in 1944, and had powerful muzzles for many years, but they wouldn't touch an M1-A1 today.

And the comment on "top-end" training? Is that supposed to be a joke?

Posted by: ratbert at September 7, 2007 1:15 AM

Yes, the kill ratio over Lebanon effectively ended the Cold War.

Posted by: oj at September 7, 2007 6:20 AM

Go easy guys, we want him to hang around a while.

Posted by: erp at September 7, 2007 4:50 PM