Attrition: Ukraine War Causes Russian Labor Shortage


June 12, 2024: The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left Russia as the largest, wealthiest, and most populous of the fourteen new states that emerged after the demise of the Soviet empire. At first the prospects for the new Russian Federation looked bright. That did not last long because population growth ended in 1993. At that point Russia had 148 million people. Since 1993 the population has steadily declined because of low birth rates, shorter life spans for males and over a million men and women migrating to western Europe or North America.

Desperate to deal with this problem, Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine in 2014 and 2022. While Ukrainians share many characteristics with Russians, like customs, education levels, and similar languages, Russian rule was definitely not wanted. For centuries Ukrainians have held on to their desire for independence. Russian domination, misrule and mismanagement of the economy led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and an opportunity for forty million Ukrainians to finally regain self-rule. That lasted for 23 years before the Russians decided they could solve their declining population problem by rebuilding their empire, starting with the 40 million Ukrainians. Russia initially believed that most Ukrainians would welcome this and ignore their plans to join the European Union (EU) and NATO. The Ukrainians disagreed and fought the Russians to a ruinous, for Russia, standstill. Substantial military and economic aid from NATO enabled the Ukrainians to stop the Russians and eventually expel them.

The Russian military has lost over half a million men dead, missing deserted since its second invasion of Ukraine began in 2022. Over a million Russian military age men soon left Russia to avoid being mobilized into the army and sent to die in Ukraine. The Russian government then outlawed emigration to avoid military service but has not been able to enforce the new law. All this means that the Russian population is rapidly approaching 138 million and, unless Russia wins or abandons the Ukraine war, the Russian population will continue to shrink. Nearly all the lost men were part of the workforce and so many men are now gone that the Russian economy suffers from a significant labor shortage. Encouraging migrants from former portions of the Soviet Union with high unemployment rates worked for a while. Then the army decided these new residents of Russia were liable for military service. That sent most of the migrants back to their homelands.

Desperate to extricate Russia and himself from this mess, in early 2024 Russian leader Vladimir Putin proposed a peace with Russia retaining possession of Ukrainian territory they already occupied. The Ukrainians refused because the Russians had made similar proposals several times since 1991 and reneged on their promises every time. That means that in addition to a labor shortage and a lack of military success, Russia also has a credibility shortage. Worse, a growing number of Russian soldiers refuse to fight in Ukraine. This has led to tense standoffs between reluctant soldiers and their officers who have been told to shoot soldiers refusing to fight. This didn’t go well because the soldiers in question are also armed and inclined to shoot back, or shoot first, and then desert to the Ukrainians. In some cases deserting Russian soldiers, and some prisoners of war, have formed pro-Ukrainian militias and operate against Russian targets just across the border. Ukraine encourages these militias and any Russians to want to surrender. As long as Russian leaders keep making bad decisions, they will continue to lose Russian workers and soldiers.




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