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President Putin's Other Legacy

Eight Million Missing Children

Vladimir Putin, often heralded as the ‘Savior of Russia’, credited with bringing an end to chaos, reviving the economy (average GDP growth during his tenure 7%), and restoring Russian national pride, has another less vaunted claim to fame; in the eight years he presided over Russia the number of 0-19 year olds fell from 38 million to 30 million, a loss of 8 million children, that's 1 million less children every year.

To be fair to Prime Minister Putin, this is part of a wider trend that much of Europe is experiencing, but the population changes in the former USSR are worthy of special attention due to the diametrically opposite pressures being exerted within what is now the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

This is the second in a series of article on Population Pressure. The first being Rock and a Hardplace

Just as Russia is producing less Natashas, Nikolais and Vladimirs, so the Muslim CIS states are going into overdrive producing ever more Leylas, Abdulmedjit and Alibeks.

The net effect  on the 2050 population of the CIS, a fall of 6.5% fromits 2000 levels, does not appear overly dramatic, especially given some of the enormous changes that the global population is undergoing. What is dramatic is the shift in population balance between the Western (Orthodox Christian) states - Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine - and the Eastern (Muslim) ones - Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Uzbekistan.

In 40 years time the population of Russia and the western section of the CIS will have fallen to 74% of their 2000 levels, whilst the population of the eastern segment will have risen to 138%.

The implications of this change are even greater than the gross numbers suggest as in addition to shrinking, the western CIS population is also rapidly aging.

Historically the western CIS has significantly outnumbered the eastern CIS. As the following charts indicate 10 years ago just  the 15-39 year old's (military age) in the west more than outnumbered the entire population of the eastern CIS

Russia used the last 10 years wisely. President Putin, no doubt aware of  the potential dwindling of influence over its eastern neighbors, ensured Russia's future dominance in the region by  pushing through vast infrastructure projects that connect the energy rich eastern states to their markets. This will enable Russia to keep it's hand on the switch and thus able to exert influence over both Europe and the energy producers long after its military manpower advantage has ceased to exist.

Even in the last 10 years, Russia's population advantage has slipped noticeably. It still enjoys 2.5:1 advantage in the military age group, but you will note that the number of under 14's has slipped by more than 9 million, that is almost a 25% drop in a mere 10 years.

One could argue that Putin's efforts to maintain Russian influence can be outflanked by the building of new pipelines through territory that Russia does not control. This would be possible, but such construction would take years and would only be feasible if  Russia were to keep the energy flowing during the period of construction. Should Russia consider such projects as a threat to its strategic interests, a not unlikely interpretation of events, Russia would still have the ability to switch off the lights in much of Europe.

We will not have to wait all that long to discover what the Russian strategy is.Unlike changes in climate, the changes in population are far easier to foresee and happen much faster.  We know that forty years from now Russia will have all but lost its hold over the eastern CIS in terms of military manpower, the crucial ratio having slipped from over 3:1 to 5:4.

Further, Russia will be struggling under the burden of a severely aging population, with nearly two thirds of its population over 40, and almost as many over 70's as 15-39 year olds.

These figures are not disputed so much as ignored. They are in the public domain, available online from the UN and the US Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idb/region.php). They go a long way to explaining many of the strategic decisions made by President Putin and his stand in, President Medvedev, including Russia's long standing and deep-seated objections to the US Missile Defense Shield bases in Europe

As Russia's armed forces are starved of manpower, and missiles on both sides effectively cancel each other out, what better strategic weapon that to be able to control the energy that your neighbors rely on. There is a view that this is a mutual dependency, that Russia is as dependent on Europe for finance and trade as Europe is for energy controlled by Russia.

That, however, is like arguing that If I depend on you for air, and you depend on me for food and water then we are mutually dependent. It ignores the fact that you can survive far longer without food and water than I can without oxygen. and once my oxygen supply runs out there is nothing to stop you marching in and helping yourself to my food and water.

An effective missile shield would therefore not be in Russia's interest as this would return us to the status quo ante, with missiles plus missile shield balancing missiles plus energy control, undermining Russia's plan for strategic dominance. If that is indeed their plan. There are those who believe that Putin, Medvedev and Co. are just in this for the money, and are using their power to acquire massive wealth. This is a very western model for viewing the world. I think it far more likely that they are using money to acquire power than the other way round.

Both Putin and Medvedev are relatively young men (58 & 45) and are likely to be key players for the next few decades as we watch their strategy unfold. Whatever their game plan is it is likely to be far more realpolitik than anything offered up by their EU or American counterparts.

But however effective they are at devising and executing geopolitical strategy it will all come to nowt if they are unable to provide a domestic environment which entices their populace to breed. As it stands at the moment they are failing in this most basic, and most crucial, national task. Unless Russia, and its Western CIS allies, begin filling their empty cribs their future can be nothing but bleak.

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