Sunday, June 18, 2006

The demise of Russia's far east

The Demography.Matters team has on several occasions reported on the demographics of Russia and this time around we look at the differences between east and west of the large country. At first hand, it seems as if the demographic issues in Russia could be narrated in a general sense.

'For more than a decade, the country's population has steadily shrunk from 150 million in the early 1990s to just more than 140 million today. According to official statistics, unless the situation changes, the Russian population will drop to 80 million by 2050, leaving the country's Far East virtually vacant.'

However, particularly the remote far eastern regions are being abandoned in what seems to be a flow of migration towards the west which obviously is set to have important consequences should the trend not be reversed.

'Russian officials concede that the country's Far East risks becoming a no man's land. The population in the area has declined by 20 per cent in the last 15 years, despite a revival of the regional economy, Kamil Iskhakov, the presidential envoy to the Far East said on in mid-May. "People are leaving because they can not find acceptable living conditions," he told an 18 May meeting in Khabarovsk.

Improving the demographic situation is a "matter of survival" for the Koryak Autonomous District, said governor Oleg Kozhemyako. The region still faces high mortality rates and significant population outflows, he conceded on 10 May.'

And this should be seen in the light of a especially well endowed territory which, at least at a first glance, bodes well for opportunities.

'The Russian Far East comprises 13 regions, stretches over 40 per cent of Russia's territory, and is home to vast natural resources, including virtually all of the country's diamonds, two-thirds of its gold deposits, and major timber and fishery resources.

Yet despite these opportunities, in recent years many Russians have been moving back to the European part of the country from the remote regions of Siberia and the Far East. As such, Russia's expansionist trend of the past several centuries is being reversed, leaving hardly populated stretches in the Asian part of the country.'

As the article also reports, Kremlin is hard at work to reverse the demographics trends in Russia and specifically the Eastern regions, will Moscow come through?


Anonymous said...

The Soviet government encouraged people to live in areas which, if they were in Canada (or Sweden) they would shun.

There's really no need, under modern conditions, to have huge populations to extract resources.

It makes more sense to let people concentrate in areas they find more agreeable, and do the resource extraction with machinery and a few well-paid specialists.

Anonymous said...

What's more, the countries adjacent to eastern Russia -- China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan -- also have low fertility rates and are rapidly urbanizing.

Russia doesn't have to worry about hordes of prolific Chinese peasants eager to stake out homesteads in Siberia.

They're going to Shanghai and not reproducing, instead.

Admin said...

"The Soviet government encouraged people to live in areas which, if they were in Canada (or Sweden) they would shun."

I think Stirling has hit the nail sharply on the head here :).

This paper from Fiona Hill,at Brookings, Siberia: Russia's Economic Heartland and Daunting Dilemma, outlines the problem pretty well.

Admin said...

On the geo-political implications of what is happening in Russia Fiona Hill is also interesting. Her piece in this:

is a useful read for anyone interested. Be careful though, since it is a huge, book length, file and her bit is to be found around P171.

CV said...

'There's really no need, under modern conditions, to have huge populations to extract resources.'

Hmm, I can see this point and perhaps the Russian territory is just too big and too remote (in some places) to merit any active policies to amend this issue. Somebody, though, is bound to stay put - simply because they do not have the possibility to leave.

'The Soviet government encouraged people to live in areas which, if they were in Canada (or Sweden) they would shun.'

Oh yes, good point. This is an important aspect since it puts any policies from Moscow in a different put important perspective.

Admin said...

"Somebody, though, is bound to stay put"

Well, a bit more than somebody, since, as Fiona Hill points out, the resource rich region is what drives growth in Russian GDP. This is a real headache for them. The 'extraction conditions' are far from optimal.

Anonymous said...

An interesting question is not just how many are leaving, but who is leaving. Are these out-migrations the kind that will make indigenous North Asian peoples once again the majorities in their thinly populated homelands, and if so, is there any reason for the Kremlin to be nervous?

Randy McDonald said...

This has apparently happened in Chuchotka, but I don't know of any other jurisdictions of the Russian Federation's far north where this has. In any case, the far north lacks the economic infrastructure needed to sustain autonomous communities; federal transfers are essential.

Anonymous said...


It is true that much of North Asia must depend on federal subsidy to maintain infrastructre, and is therefore at somewhat of a disadvantage should it agitate for increased autonomy. (The exception is places like Chukotka, where there are undeveloped energy resources that, if developed, could make the area a net contributor to the federal budget.)

But if we accept that principle, some of the Putin administration's policies seem downright paranoid. One by one, the government is abolishing the autonomous okrugs' relationship with the federal government (as reorganized, they still exist, but their autonomy is mediated through the government of a krais or oblast, rather than having direct relations with the federal government.)

Randy McDonald said...

I think that it's quite paranoid. Even Chuchotka and Yakutia, assuming they manage to prosper from natural resources, are going to rely so heavily as guest workers/immigrants from the rest of Russia as to undercut the advantages of their material bases.