December 27, 2009


Russia's 'sphere' in Europe (Ronald D. Asmus, December 26, 2009, Washington Post)

Almost unnoticed in the U.S. media, Moscow last month proposed a new draft treaty on European security -- thus making good on President Dmitry Medvedev's call after the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008 for changes to the current system. In parallel, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brought forward a second and more worrying document in the NATO-Russia Council. This is the latest in a series of Russian moves to alter how European security is run, to constrain NATO and, above all, to stop any further enlargement of the Western alliance.

Both documents suggest that we are on different planets when it comes to thinking about Europe's future. Rather than moving into the 21st century, a revisionist Russia seems determined to revert to a 19th-century policy of "spheres of influence." With the Obama administration understandably focused on the war in Afghanistan and the looming challenge of Iran, Moscow may hope that a West in need of Russian cooperation on these issues could be willing to acquiesce to Russian claims of such influence on its borders, allowing it to stop further encroachment of Western institutions.

It's unnoticed because they just don't matter to the future, having none themselves.

Drunken Nation: Russia’s Depopulation Bomb (Nicholas Eberstadt, Spring 2009, World Affairs Journal)

A comparison dramatizes what is happening in Russia. Between 1976 and 1991, the last sixteen years of Soviet power, the country recorded 36 million births. In the sixteen post-Communist years of 1992–2007, there were just 22.3 million, a drop in childbearing of nearly 40 percent from one era to the next. On the other side of the life cycle, a total of 24.6 million deaths were recorded between 1976 and 1991, while in the first sixteen years of the post-Communist period the Russian Federation tallied 34.7 million deaths, a rise of just over 40 percent. The symmetry is striking: in the last sixteen years of the Communist era, births exceeded deaths in Russia by 11.4 million; in the first sixteen years of the post-Soviet era, deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million.

The Russian Federation is by no means the only country to have registered population decline during the past two decades. In fact, 11 of the 19 countries making up Western Europe reported some annual population declines during the Cold War era. On the whole, however, these population dips tended to be brief and slight in magnitude. (Italy’s “depopulation,” for example, was limited to just one year—1986—and entailed a decline of fewer than 4,000 persons.) Moreover, the population declines in these cases were primarily a consequence of migration trends: either emigration abroad in search of opportunity (Ireland, Portugal), or release of foreign “guest workers” during recessions or cyclical downturns in the domestic economy (most of the rest). Only in a few Western European countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom) did negative natural increase ever feature as a contributing factor in a year-on-year population decline. In all but Germany, such bouts of negative natural increase proved to be temporary and relatively muffled.

So where, given these daunting facts, is the Russian Federation headed demographically in the years and decades ahead? Two of the world’s leading demographic institutions—the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) and the U.S. Bureau of the Census—have tried to answer this question by a series of projections based upon what their analysts believe to be plausible assumptions about Russia’s future fertility, mortality, and migration patterns.

Both organizations’ projections trace a continuing downward course for the Russian Federation’s population over the generation ahead. As of mid-year 2005, Russia’s estimated population was around 143 million. UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million; for the year 2030, they range from 133 million to 115 million. The Census Bureau’s projections for the Russian Federation’s population in 2025 and 2030 are 128 million and 124 million, respectively.

If these projections turn out to be relatively accurate—admittedly, a big “if” for any long-range demographic projection—the Russian Federation will have experienced over thirty years of continuous demographic decline by 2025, and the better part of four decades of depopulation by 2030. Russia’s population would then have dropped by about 20 million between 1990 and 2025, and Russia would have fallen from the world’s sixth to the twelfth most populous country. In relative terms, that would amount to almost as dramatic a demographic drop as the one Russia suffered during World War II. In absolute terms, it would actually be somewhat greater in magnitude.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 27, 2009 8:11 AM
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