What scares the Kremlin the most? Missile shields? NATO encroachment? Development of Iranian gas or the unstoppable growth of China? Or perhaps the renewed popularity of an American president, which makes the all the spoiling and foot-dragging a little less successful?
No, it’s none of that – though they all serve as interesting distractions. One of Russia’s biggest problems is that her citizens appear disinclined toward reproduction – and the depopulation rates are soaring – no matter how many SUVs they offer to give away to pregnant families. For as often as the Russian leadership boasts about its oil prosperity, strength, stability, and role as an influential global leader, the people are still waiting for their government to undertake some social programs to address these needs.
Nicholas Eberstadt, who has written quite a lot about this issue, has a new piece in the World Affairs Journal, which draws a link between these public health problems and the cultural fondness for vodka.
The current Russian depopulation–which began in 1992 and shows no signs of abating–was, like the previous episodes, also precipitated by events of momentous political significance: the final dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of Communist Party rule. But it differs in three important respects. First, it is by far the longest period of population decline in modern Russian history, having persisted for over twice as long as the decline that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, and well over three times as long as the terrifying depopulation Russia experienced during and immediately after World War II.
Second,unlike all the previous depopulations in Russia, this one has beentaking place under what are, within the Russian context, basicallyorderly social and political circumstances. Terror and war are not theengines for the depopulation Russia is experiencing today, as they havebeen in the past.
And finally, whereas Russia’s previousdepopulations resulted from wild and terrible social paroxysms, theywere also clearly temporary in nature. The current crisis, on the otherhand, is proceeding gradually and routinely, and thus it is impossibleto predict when, or whether, it will finally come to an end.