Baku, March 1 – Ninety-six percent of the population of the Russian Federation will live in cities in 2025, a UN projection that if it proves to be true will leave large parts of that country without any population, make Russia more rather than less dependent on food imports, and reduce Moscow’s ability to reverse the country’s demographic decline.
The United Nations report projects that by 2025, Russia’s population will decline to 128.2 million, far less than today, and that only four percent of them will live in rural areas, far less than now. (The report is at http://esa.un.org/unup/p2k0data.asp. For comment, see http://www.vedomosti.ru/newsline/index.shtml?2008/02/27/553400).
Not surprisingly, this report whose findings are consistent with other projections, including those by Russian demographers, has sparked both a debate among politicians about its meaning and accuracy and renewed efforts by officials in rural areas and smaller cities to attract government help to retain their populations.
Vladimir Gusev, a member of the Federation Council, acknowledged that “the depopulation of the [Russian] villages is really taking place, but he suggested that it could be stopped if Moscow were to make the kinds of investments in rural infrastructure that the Soviet government did (http://www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=175826).
The country needs the village, he continued, in order to produce enough food for the cities and enough children for the future. “Russia is an agrarian country,” Gusev argued, “we have more than 130 million hectares of agricultural land. It would be impermissible to lose such wealth.”
Sergei Lisovsky, another member of the Federation Council agreed. He said that Russia needed to preserve the village in order not to depend on foreigners for food. He called on abrogating the Russian-American protocol on food imports for the period 2005-2009 as a first step.
Moscow signed that document in the hopes that it would get into the World Trade Organization in 2007, he suggested, but “the Americans deceived us. And why then must we fulfill the terms of this agreement unilaterally,” especially if we need to boost food production at home?
But a third senator, Gennady Gorbunov dismissed the UN report. Its figure of 96 percent urbanization by 2025 is “mythical, something completely fantastic,” he insisted. The government is spending more money on rural areas, and people there will not want to come to the cities in such numbers.
And keeping Russians in the village is critical for the country’s demographic future, he said, because “village residents always have more children” than their urban counterparts. If the villagers move to the cities, the country’s overall birthrate would decline further.
Despite Gorbunov’s confidence that Moscow has found a way to prevent the UN predictions from being realized, the leaders in many Russian regions face the prospect that rural residents and even those in smaller cities will depart and leave much of the country without any population at all.
One region whose leaders are most concerned about that is the Russian Far East, where younger and more educated people are leaving in droves, harming the economy, undermining social cohesion, and making China appear that much more of a threat (http://deita.ru/?news,,,,106216)
But despite claims Moscow will provide the funds to change these trends, most regional officials feel themselves largely abandoned. And in despair, some have been reduced to appealing to the local patriotism of a generation whose members increasingly look to Moscow or abroad for their future (http://www.aifvs.ru/nomer/562/16-3.shtml).