“Implosion: The End of Russia And What It Means For America,” By Ilan Berman
In the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s State of The Nation Address; yesterday (Dec. 12, 2013)(see previous post on Fortuna’s Corner), I thought it would be good to summarize Ilan Berman’s comments on his new book, “Implosion: The End of Russia and What It Means For America.” Mr. Berman recently spoke at the Heritage Foundation about his new book, where Russia might be headed in the decade ahead, and what the implications are for Washington and the West.
Mr. Berman’s talk was rich and interesting with much to think about. The son of Russian refuseniks who has spent years in Russia — Mr. Berman is steeped in Russian history and, what he sees as “the coming implosion” of the country.
A confident Valdimir Putin striding very large on the world stage (Syria, Iran, Olympics, etc.), portraying a strong, geo-political image — is not the reality Mr. Berman sees behind the curtain. “Russia may appear strong now,” Mr. Berman says but, the country is going through a profound transition “that when it settles in, will be as earth-shattering as the collapse of the Soviet Union some two decades ago.” This coming upheaval is a byproduct of three trends that are on course to intersect in a very dramatic way.
The first major trend-line Mr. Berman notes is demographics –“2.1 is the magic number,” — to ensure replenishment and stable population growth. During the fertility lifespan of the average woman — she has 2.1 children. One child to replace her, one to replace her husband and some fraction thereof of (for disaster, accident, etc.) an additional child (some women; 2 children, some three or more). There are “a whole bunch of countries in Europe below 2.1, with Russia ranking near the bottom at 1.6. This contraction is resulting in decline of about 500k people per year. If not ameliorated to any significant degree, Russia’s population is on a path to shrink by 25%, from its present level of 143M to just 107M by 2050.
Other issues that are exacerbating this population decline include: Russian male life expectancy is 60yrs.– the same as Madagascar — and 73yrs. for women — the same as Saudi Arabia; The collapse of the Russian family is a recent phenomena after the Cold War (Russian families “stuck together during this time period), with “a rampant culture of abortion” (1.2M annually/equivalent to 300 per hour/daily). And, Mr. Berman says the abortion figures are likely much higher because of a lack of reporting from private clinics and “off the books,” procedures. Additionally, there is; rampant drug use, especially heroin/needles. Russia accounts for one-fifth of the world’s annual use of needles. This has led/contributed to widespread HIV/AIDS — an estimated 1% of the total population. Finally, Russia’s population is fleeing, especially those between the ages of 18yrs. – 35yrs. Forty percent of Russia’s youth are contemplating leaving according to recent surveys. All of these factors are contributing to a “death spiral,” in Russia’s population growth and, there are few signs the trend will reverse.
The second major trend-line is Russia’s burgeoning Muslim population — the one sector which is experiencing a significant population explosion. Muslims currently make up 16% of Russia’s population;– about 2M — but by the end of this decade Muslims are expected to make up 20% of Russia’s total population. Mr. Berman says that Muslims have hit a “glass ceiling” in the country as the Muslim community is not well integrated into the overall society and there is visible sense of discrimination that the Muslim population feels. Radicalism among this sector is increasing; and, the violence/terrorism that has been ongoing in Chechnya for years is beginning to migrate into the interiors of Russia. Mr. Berman says this insurgent strain of militant Islam risks widening the conflict with not just one Chechnya — but, many.
The third major trend, “the Chinese are coming.” Mr. Berman says the territory in western Siberia and; Russia’s far east has just 25M people — 6 Russians per square mile. This area is mineral/energy rich, but there aren’t nearly enough people to do the work. As a result, Mr. Berman says Chinese investment and presence in this area is significantly increasing — perhaps spelling trouble down the road between China and Russia. Mr. Berman says if Russia were to lose or cede this energy bread basket to China — it would portend dire consequences for Moscow.
All of these issues are likely to force the Russian leadership to press west for demographic and economic reasons — and, could foster tensions with NATO and Western Europe.
The real challenge for the U.S. Mr. Berman says, “is not the strength of Russia twenty years hence”; but, a much weakened Russia, imploding from within. Much food for thought. V/R, RCP.