What’s At Stake


World-power status or total collapse—one or the other. This twenty-first century is make-or-break for the Russian Federation, and the stakes couldn’t get much higher, for its people or for the whole world.

Since the 1980s collapse of the Soviet system and the resultant plunge in national living standards that came with it, Russia has undergone a frightening trend of nonstop population atrophy. World Bank data records Russia’s population shrinking at a steady -0.2% a year throughout the 1990s, from 148.3 million in 1990 to in 143.1 million in 2000. The atrophy picked up pace to -0.5% a year after 2000 through the present. By 2015, the World Bank projects only 136 million people living in Russia.(www.worldbank.org)


The CIA World Factbook notes the fundamental problem, the ratio of Russian deaths to births. As of 2008, that ratio was tilted heavily toward deaths, with 16 Russians dying for every 11 born. (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html.)


A country can compensate for too few births if it has a sufficiently steady stream of immigrants. Russia, unfortunately, does not. The Factbook reports Russia’s net migration rate, defined as the rate of immigrants per every 1,000 residents, to be a meager 0.28. It takes 73rd place out of 173 countries, trailing all of Western Europe, just barely edged out by Slovakia, and a mere six rankings ahead of the Gaza Strip:





2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.




2008 est.


Gaza Strip


2008 est.

Source: CIA World Factbook.


A nation as vast as Russia cannot survive if it keeps losing population at this rate. It takes population to keep a workforce running, keep infrastructure in operating order, staff police and civil-service agencies, and fill the ranks of the military. Too few people left over, and what is left of its civic society may one day come crashing down.   


Russian leadership can keep this dire future by doing two things: raising living standards and encouraging more immigration. Both take capital, and lots of it. In short, the leadership must create very large amounts of new revenue very quickly if it wants Russia to survive, let alone thrive, in the twenty-first century. This is a drastic order that could take drastic actions to fulfill, maybe even actions that Westerners do not like. But it has to be.


Vladimir Putin was well aware of all this from the get-go, and he has done much over the years toward creating that needed capital, both while president and now as prime minister: restructuring the economy; securing the cooperation of provinicial governments; bringing the law down upon lawbreaking oil tycoons; secring a solid market position for Gazprom; and projecting the strong public image necessary to win the confidence of Russia’s people.   


A lot has been written in the West about Putin. Most of it pretty bad: He’s “an autocrat”; he’s “suppressing Russia’s nascent democracy”;   he’s a “dangerous” man with a predilection for “abuse of power.” And he’s “no friend of the United States,” to boot.


But the numbers, also from the Factbook, speak for themselves:

  • nine consecutive years of economic expansion at an average of 7% a year
  • 10% annual growth in capital investments
  • 12% annual growth in personal incomes
  • a federal budget surplus of 3% at the end of 2007
  • increase in foreign direct investment from $14.5 billion in 2005 to $45 billion in 2007
  • And Russia’s transformation into a powerful mover-and-shaker in the energy field, exporting 5.1 million barrels of oil and 237.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas a day

The last point is the most significant, for ours is a world that will be in huge and huger need of oil and natural gas in decades ahead. Should Russia’s economic risorgimento continue, it will be in a tremendous position to provide. It is a cornucopia of oil and natural gas both. And an up-and-coming dynamo of industry, metallurgy, and software infrastructure in the making. It is Russia, and any serious study of where the world is headed would do well to take it into account.



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