Russia’s Latest Census Report Populations Gains — Or Losses

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 42

According to the Russian Statistical Yearbook for 2000, Russia’s permanent population (i.e. citizens plus legal residents from other CIS republics) decreased from 147 million people at the end of 1988 to 145.6 million at the end of 1999. During the same period, the number of youth below age 18 decreased from about 38 million to 33.66 million; this steep decline reflects the dramatic post-Soviet drop in the birth rate (Rossisky Statistichesky Ezhegodnik 2000). At current levels, more Russians are dying than being born; the current birthrate is not sufficient to maintain stable population levels.

Russia’s depopulation trend continued in 2000-2001. By the end of 2001, Russia’s permanent population had fallen to 144 million. From January to April 2002, the population decreased a further 301,700 people to 143.7 million (Novoye Russkoye Slovo June 28, 2002).

When data for the All-Russian Population Census was collected in October 2002, the first national census in more than 13 years, experts predicted the permanent population would decrease to around 143.2 million people. However, the 2002 Census managed to “find” an additional 1.9 million people and, by the end of 2002, Russia’s population had miraculously risen to 145 million!

After this official national count, the previously observed depopulation trend resumed, though starting from a higher initial base. Between January and July 2003, Russia’s permanent population decreased by 506,100 people to 144.5 million. The decrease reflects the net change resulting from 873,100 births, 1.404 million deaths, and about 25,000 more immigrants than emigrants during the same period (, September 19, 2003).

According to preliminary data for 2003, Russia’s permanent population dropped further to about 143.2 million by the end of 2003. This included about 30 million youth below 18 (Pravda, June 18-21, 2004). Still, the reliability of Russia’s 2002 Census raises serious doubts.

Vladimir Pashuto, an expert on social policy, recently told Pravda, “As is well known, numbers can be manipulated. According to the figures issued during the All-Russia General Census in October 2002, the population of Russia appeared to be equal to about 140 million. Two months later, in December 2002, Goskomstat, for no particular reason, “added” another 5 million people, and Russia’s permanent population reached 145 million. Such voluntarism in Russian [socio-economic] statistics became the rule. Goskomstat Director [Vladimir] Sokolin must now produce figures according to the demands of Economy Minister [German] Gref and Prime Minister [Mikhail] Fradkov (Pravda, June 18-21).

Similarly, Mikhail Rutkevich, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Pravda Rossii, “The last census has been accomplished in a terrible manner. According to current data, Russia’s permanent population (by October 2002) was equal to 143 million. Suddenly they “discovered” [it was] 145 million. This census was optional even for permanent residents, let alone illegal immigrants, whose number fluctuates between 3.5 million and 5 million people” (Pravda Rossii, June 23-29).

Other statements of this kind abound. Moreover, according to some sources, less than 70% of the 2002 survey questionnaires were even returned to Goskomstat. Standard statistical practice would call for the results to be rejected. However, the Russian government not only approved these results, but it even cited them as proof of Moscow’s successful struggle against depopulation trends. Pro-government media, such as Argumenty i fakty, eagerly reprinted such official claims in December 2002.

Goskomstat population statistics apparently reflect the wishful thinking of central authorities. In reality, Russia’s permanent population did not exceed 143 million by the end of 2002 and actually decreased to 142 million or less by mid-2004.

While providing ample information on legal residents, Goskomstat gives no data regarding illegal immigrants, who stay in Russia for months or even years. The question asked most often is: How many Chinese reside in Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East at any given moment? Depopulation is fast becoming an acute issue in these regions. Some sources claim that, by the end of 2001, the number of Chinese in greater Russia approached 2 million, while the number of Chinese in Eastern Siberia and Far East reached 1.75 million (Versiya, January 2002). While many analysts believe the Versiya figures are exaggerated, the number of Chinese in Russia’s eastern regions of Russia is growing and could approach 1.5 million in 2005. When will illegal residents begin to outnumber officially authorized Russians?