Putin’s Fading Empire: The Impact of the War on Ukraine and Russia’s Population Crisis

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Putin’s Fading Empire: The Impact of the War on Ukraine and Russia’s Population Crisis
Putin’s Fading Empire: The Impact of the War on Ukraine and Russia’s Population Crisis

The Kremlin’s propaganda campaign likes to portray the Russia of President Vladimir Putin as a pro-family oasis amid a decadent liberal world. However, when one crunches the numbers, the situation in Russia is every bit as bad as the world as a whole. Russia faces an impending demographic winter threatening the stability of the nation.

The problem is aggravated by the conflict in Ukraine that has claimed nearly 300,000 Russian casualties and caused almost a million more to flee the country. Russia also does not attract immigrants in great numbers. Birth rates are at a historic low, especially in regions near the conflict zones.

To counter these trends, Putin is attempting to boost the birth rate, labeling 2024 “The Year of the Family.” Like other countries that have tried to pay people to have more children, he has introduced subsidies and benefits for families with three or more children. He has emphasized the noble pursuit of motherhood as the cornerstone of a woman’s life, regardless of her career.

The present plan calls for $157 billion to help support families and promote having more children. The result has been the same as in other countries: a flat birth and marriage rate. Having children is not an economic problem but a moral one.

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Putin’s vision for an assertive Russia hinges on reversing the population decline, reshaping societal norms, and fostering a demographic shift towards larger families and greater immigration. It must also prevent the flight of valuable human talent, which would undermine Russia’s economic prospects and future social stability.

As of July 2023, approximately 920,000 Russian citizens have fled since Putin’s war on Ukraine. Although some have returned, a significant portion is comprised of skilled professionals in IT and other sectors who have permanently resettled abroad. Official figures show a spike in emigration, reaching around 668,000 in 2022 and 450,000 in 2023, the highest numbers since 1992.

However, political economist Nicholas Eberstadt notes that the most successful population strategy seems to be invading and annexing parts of neighboring countries rather than boosting the birthrate. The occupation of Crimea in 2014 added 2.4 million people to the population count.

Other factors contribute to the declining population trends. The nation is experiencing rising mortality rates, suicides and early deaths among young men. Russia’s life expectancy plummeted to 65 years by 2003, an alarming drop from 69 in 1990. Despite some more recent advances due to anti-drinking and anti-smoking programs, challenges persist.

“Deaths of despair” is a haunting term used by demographers to express their fear of a potential rise in such tragic deaths due to the ongoing war coupled with life under the authoritarian regime. These deaths, often linked to depression, substance abuse, alcohol-related diseases and other underlying causes, are now resurfacing with alarming prevalence among Russians who see little hope in the future.

When COVID-19 struck, Russia suffered a devastating blow, ranking among the hardest-hit nations globally. Over 1.12 million deaths were recorded due to the virus, the same as the American toll despite having less than half of the American population. According to a Bloomberg report, Russian healthcare ranks last among 55 developed countries, highlighting its inefficiency.

Extremely high abortion rates are another major problem dragging down population growth. The damage has reached the point that authorities have asked some private clinics to stop providing abortions. While recognizing it as a pressing problem, Putin has defended abortion, saying that “The rights and freedoms of women need to be respected when addressing the abortion issue.”

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One immediate effect of the population decline is the present labor shortage in a wartime economy. Putin has shifted focus toward military production, taking specialized workers for the regular economy. Manufacturing firms are grappling with staff shortages, with 47 percent reporting deficits in January 2024, the highest in surveys since 1996.

The Russian Academy of Sciences estimates a shortfall of 4.8 million workers, particularly affecting the manufacturing, transportation, logistics and construction sectors. The long-term effect of these shortages is a decline in living standards that will likely affect Russia’s fertility rate, which faces severe challenges. There is a shifting sentiment in Russia, indicating a growing inclination towards postponing family expansion.

In a time when Moscow continues to dispatch countless young and middle-aged men to a useless war against Ukraine to be slaughtered, the present campaign for more children takes on a nationalistic tone. “Stay home and raise more soldiers” seems to be the unspoken sentiment that wafts through Russia’s dachas.

Photo Credit:  © M-SUR – stock.adobe.com

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