According to a study of official government data, Russia’s natural population has seen its greatest peacetime drop in recorded history during the past 12 months.
Russia’s natural population — a number that includes recorded deaths and births but excludes the impacts of migration — fell by 997,000 between October 2020 and September 2021, according to demographer Alexei Raksha, Moscow Times writes.
The dramatic decrease comes as Russia, which has one of the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world, continues to lose a record number of people to the epidemic. Since the beginning of the epidemic, the nation has reported at least 660,000 extra fatalities.
Despite Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which added 2 million to Russia’s official population figures, Russia’s overall population of approximately 145 million is fewer than it was when President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.
Russia’s last era of significant depopulation occurred during the 1990s, a decade of economic turmoil during which birth rates plummeted and social issues such as poverty and alcoholism skyrocketed. The last record natural population drop was between July 1999 and June 2000, when Russia’s population declined by 983,000, according to Raksha.
After growing steadily throughout the Soviet Union’s postwar years, Russia’s natural population fell steadily for decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, with total numbers held up mainly by the influx of millions of migrant laborers from ex-Soviet countries in Central Asia.
Russia’s natural population increased briefly around 2012 before declining again in the years before the epidemic as the economy deteriorated and living conditions dropped.
Throughout his two-decade reign, Putin has pushed a slew of programs and welfare payments aimed at increasing the country’s dwindling birth rate, such as a lavish “maternity capital” plan that provides new parents with thousands of dollars to spend on housing or schooling.
The government has also used the demographic problem to justify its effort to promote “traditional family values,” which has included laws such as prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting and outlawing “homosexual propaganda.”