Attrition: Russia Resumes Shrinking


May 26, 2015: The Caucasus (south of Russia, north of Iran) state of Georgia recently announced the results of its 2014 census. This was the first census since 2002 and the news was worse than expected. Current Georgian population is 3.73 million, a 15 percent decline from 2002. Worse, the latest count shows that since Georgia broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991 population has declined 30 percent. Most of this was due to Georgians migrating to other countries for better job opportunities and a better life. Some 70 years of communist rule had turned Georgia into a nice place to visit but, for most Georgians, not a great place to live. The Georgian experience was typical of the former Soviet states in the Caucasus. Armenia, which also became independent lost 12 percent since getting free of Russia. These population declines were common throughout the former Soviet Union.

For centuries Russia (rebranded as the Soviet Union in the early 1920s) was considered a threat to its neighbors by virtue of its larger population. But since the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991 (and half the population broke away to form 14 new nations) the remaining Russian population has been in decline. Twenty years after the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russian population implosion was getting worse. While in the 1990s the population was shrinking at a rate of .1 percent a year, in the first decade of the 21st century that increased to .2 percent a year. This was because the non-Slav Russians are having fewer children, just as the Slavs have been doing (or, rather, not doing) for decades. The Russian population has declined three percent since 1989, from 147 to 142.9 million. The proportion of the population that is ethnic Russian (Slav) has declined from 81.5 percent to 77 percent in that same period. The Russian slide could have been worse had it not been for the fact that millions of ethnic Russians in the 14 new states felt unwelcome with government controlled by the locals, not Russians in far off Moscow. Often the locals wanted the ethnic locals in their midst gone and Russia made it easy for ethnic Russians to return to the motherland. This prevented the Russian population decline from being closer to ten percent. Until the recent invasion of Ukraine, sanctions and lower oil prices, the Russian birth rate was growing. That has stopped and more Russians are seeking to emigrate.

Some countries, like Georgia, had no source of eager (or at least desperate) ethnic Georgians wanting to return home or abundant natural resources to pay for a better future. For Georgia most of the traffic was outbound and while the rate of migration has slowed it continues.








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