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Russia's President Wants to Turn Around Population Decline

  • James Brooke

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev at the Kremlin, 30 Nov. 20

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev at the Kremlin, 30 Nov. 20

Russia's president devoted the largest part of his annual State of Russia speech to reversing Russia's population decline.

If Russian couples have a third child, they will get a baby bonus, better health care, and free land to build a house or dacha, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev promised in his annual State of Russia speech.

Political analysts were hoping to hear about missiles or democracy. Instead they got babies.

Twenty years ago, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin ruled an empire with a population slightly larger than that of the United States. Today, Russia has less than half the population of the United States.

And Russia's population of 142 million people is aging fast, a sign of bigger drops ahead, President Medvedev said.

The president said Russians will have to increase birth rates to overcome the demographic ax blow of the 1990s. Due to the post-communist economic collapse, there may not be enough fertile age women for Russia to maintain its population size. Mr. Medvedev, the father of one child, said two will not do. It must be three.

Mr. Medvedev also called for a Russia without orphanages. He said Russian families should adopt Russian children.

He also said donations to child-care organizations should be made tax free and penalties should be raised for selling alcohol to minors.

In a nod to Russia's aging population, Mr. Medvedev said he is raising pensions and wants to cut inflation in half. He also said he would like to raise the share of Russian-made pharmaceutical drugs to half of those sold in the country.

What he did not say is that Russia compensates for its aging workforce by importing about 10 million laborers a year from Central Asia. After the United States, Russia is now the second-largest importer of workers. This influx of overwhelmingly Muslim workers creates tensions in Russia, where the population is largely Orthodox Christian.