Sunday, April 30, 2017

Russians Losing Interest in May Day Holiday, New Poll Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – Only 49 percent of Russians plan to do anything special to mark the May Day holiday this year, according to a new Levada Center poll. Not only is this the lowest number over the last 15 years, but it is an indication of the larger pattern of depoliticization of Russians as a result of the economic crisis and the government’s inability to do much about it.

            In 2002, 69 percent of Russians said they would mark the May Day holiday. But perhaps more important, it reports that only 15 percent say they would like to participate in demonstrations in support of the president and government while ten percent indicate they are ready to do so against the policies of the powers (

            May Day, one of the most important holidays in Soviet times, has declined in importance since 1991 and is now easily eclipsed by commemorations of Victory Day on May 9 especially given Vladimir Putin’s obvious conviction that talking about World War II is not only useful for him diplomatically but is an event the overwhelming majority of Russians agree on.

Three Events Suggest Russia Becoming a Country and Not Just Moscow’s Appendage

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – Three recent events – Aleksey Navalny’s March 26 anti-corruption protests in 100 Russian cities, the long-haul truckers’ strike in at least 80 of the federal subjects, and yesterday’s Open Russia demonstrations against Putin in more than 30 cities -- suggest that Russia is on the way to becoming a country and not just an appendage of Moscow.

            Given the hyper-centric nature of Russian political life, something that has gotten worse under Vladimir Putin, and the hyper-centric coverage of developments in Russia by both the Russian and Western media, this represents a remarkable development, one that presents special challenges to the Kremlin and its opponents and to Russia watchers as well.

            For the Kremlin, whose occupants are used to viewing the country beyond the ring road or even beyond the walls of their castle as an object of politics they can exploit rather than a subject whose interests and needs must be taken into account, that is unsettling both immediately and in the longer term.

            Moscow outlets almost invariably either ignore the regions and republics beyond the capital altogether – federal TV channels didn’t even show up at a meeting this past week on how to cover events in the republics ( – or they treat them only in terms of Moscow’s interests.

            And up until now, opposition groups, just as was largely the case at the end of Soviet times have focused almost as heavily on the capital as those in power, reinforcing the view of many Russians and outsiders that everything will continue to be decided in Moscow even when the Putin regime passes from the scene.

            Now, however, the opposition has begun to focus on the regions, implicating promoting decentralization and federalization even if those words as yet seldom figure in its programmatic statements; and the Kremlin has to reckon with a political situation in which everything may be quiet in Moscow even though much of the rest of the country is bubbling with anger.

            The Kremlin will undoubtedly seek to suppress the regions once again, confident that its claims that any activism outside of Moscow threatens the territorial integrity of the country and also confident that repression visited against its opponents in the regions will be largely ignored by both Russians and Westerners until there is violence.

            In fact, it is already doing both, stepping up the propaganda theme that Russia is at risk of disintegration and that outside powers are playing on the regions, something that the Kremlin leadership believes shows that its opponents are not only unpatriotic but traitors to the Russian state, and forcing the regional governments to crack down.

            This pattern places special burdens on those in Western governments and Western media to keep track of what is going on beyond the Moscow ring road.  Because there are few outside diplomats and journalists based in the regions and because Moscow-based ones visit only infrequently, that isn’t an easy job.

            But it is far less difficult than many imagine in the age of the Internet; and as the events at the end of Soviet times show, it is far more important because once again the fate of a country now centered in Moscow may once again be shaped not by what happens within its city limits but on the periphery, even if few could then or even fewer now could imagine that outcome.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

10 Percent Decline in Number of Births in Russia over Last Year Frightens Economists

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 29 – Just before the May holidays, Russia’s state statistical agency released figures on births, deaths and marriages that Moscow may hope no one will notice because they are so bad; but Russian economists have sounded the alarm that the population decline they point to may make impossible for the Russian economy to grow in the future.

            The number of children born in Russia during the first quarter of 2017 was 412,000, down from 458,000 in the same period a year earlier for a decline of 10 percent. And although mortality fell by one percent, the number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 76,000 or 19 percent (

            This pattern was observed throughout the country. Indeed, in contrast to the past where Muslim regions showed higher numbers of births relative to deaths than elsewhere, in the first quarter just completed, there was only a single federal subject where that was true, Rosstat says, the Chukchi Autonomous District.

            Other bad demographic news included an increase in the number of divorces compared to the number of marriages. During the first quarter, there were 84 divorces for every 100 marriages, a pattern that almost guarantees that “in 2017, a loss of population will again be renewed in Russia.”

            On Thursday, Maksim Topilin, the labor minister, told Vladimir Putin that the situation reflects declines in the size of the prime child-bearing age cohort among women, a decline that he projects will continue. Now, there are just over 22 million women aged 20 to 39; in 2025, there will be only 15 to 16 million.

            But there is even worse news, Topilin continued, Russian women are again deciding to have fewer children. To reproduce the population, they need to have “no fewer than 2.1” per woman. In 2015, the maternal capital program and other incentives succeeded in raising  the number to 1.78, but in this year, it has again fallen to 1.65.

            That means Russia will have not only fewer children but fewer working age adults to support an aging population. Former finance minister Aleksey Kudrin projects a decline in the number of working-age Russians to be 10 million 15 years from now (

            The only way to compensate for these demographic trends, experts say, is to boost fertility rates, extend life expectancy, or accept a massive influx of immigrants from Central Asia. The first has proved very difficult to do, the second is undercut by Putin’s health “optimization” cutbacks, and the third is opposed by a majority of Russians.

            Either Moscow will have to change course radically, or Russia’s demographic decline, which Putin has claimed to have stopped, will not only return but accelerate as each succeeding generation has fewer potential mothers and each mother chooses to have fewer and fewer children.