by Rostislav Ishchenko

Translated by N_V



Political columnist of “Russia Today” Rostislav Ishchenko talks about the attractiveness of the Donbass for modern Russia, the possibility of increasing Russian population of the Russian Federation, and about how the historic reunification of the Russian people promises the Russian World all the advantages.

The Russian state was built as multinational since the days of ancient (pre-Mongol) Rus. However, with the total equality of peoples, nationalities and ethnic groups inhabiting the territory of modern Russia, state-forming was the triune Russian nation (composed of the Great Russians, Malorussians, a.k.a. Ukrainians, and Belarusians).

Now the territory inhabited by Malorussians and Belarusians have disconnected from the main body of Russian territories. Local elites, having gotten their hands on the newly emerged states, started the formation of the respective nations and even achieved some success in this effort. However, a considerable number of Belarusians and Ukrainians do not want to become Litvin (the historic term applied to the population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania regardless of the ethnicity – translator’s note) or Ukrainians, but still maintain their Russian identity. Besides, on the territory of modern Ukraine have lived and still live millions of Russians exposed to forced Ukrainization.

On the other hand, the percentage of the Russian population in Russia itself has been steadily declining. While this reduction is not critical, in twenty years the issue of ethnic character, religion and cultural traditions of the Russian state might turn out to be no longer trivial. And we are not talking about changing identity of state-forming people, as, for example, in 988 when the pagan Rus became Orthodox. The threat is that the state-forming people may become a minority in their own state.

And it already threatens both the stability and the very existence of the Russian Federation. There are two problems:

1. While the state-forming people become a minority, the state for a long time, by inertia, relies on their culture and traditions. It evokes the feeling of injustice among representatives of other nations. There is a logical question: “If we are the majority, and we live on our own land, why do we have to follow other people’s tradition?” By the way, this contradiction has made irreparable rift between western and eastern Ukraine. At the time, as the minority population of Galicians tried to impose on the whole Ukraine Galician culture, history and tradition, Russian people of the south-east and the Malorussians of the central Ukraine could not understand why, while they make up the majority of the population, they should obey the traditions of strangers, just because suddenly the province of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union has become a Ukrainian state, as a result of some terrible geopolitical mistakes. At a time when the non-Russian and non-Orthodox peoples would make up a clear majority of the population of the Russian Federation, they would absolutely objectively perceive the situation as it is perceived by Russians in Ukraine. Naturally, Russians will be outraged by the fact that representatives of the people, for whom the Russian state for centuries was a safe haven, protecting them from extinction or assimilation, claim the right to change the cultural code of the State according to their will. The reason for the mutual insults and devastating internal conflict is ready. And each side will be convinced it is right.

2. I have already had occasions to write that only Russia was able to create an imperial state based not on suppression of small nations and their assimilation, but on their convergence or integration into the common space where all live comfortably. But it was the overwhelming majority of the Russian people in the Russian state that guaranteed such ethnic idyll. It is enough to look around the former lands of the Russian Empire, separated from the Soviet Union, to see what happens to those territories where the Russian people are losing state-status. Remember the civil and interstate war in the Caucasus. Civil war in Moldova (Transnistria), Ukraine, Tajikistan (relatively hushed), civil conflict in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Endangered Baltic ethnocracy. Only Kazakhstan and Belarus, which preserve and develop the strongest integration ties with Russia, thus avoided major trouble. Now, with all the difficulties and problems, despite incompleteness and imperfection of the post-Soviet system of power in Russia, the Russian people by default regarded as the arbiter and guarantor of the existing ethnic balance. Meanwhile, in the XVII century, when the whole of Siberia up to the Pacific Ocean was already covered with towns and forts populated by Russian servicemen, indigenous people and tribes were fighting wars of all against everyone. Weak were driven out further north, the strongest fought their way south. An example of the North Caucasian republics, the territories that are parts of the Russian Federation, shows convincingly how the critical reduction in the number of Russians (Russian population in Chechnya – 2%, in Ingushetia – 1% and in Dagestan – 4%) leads to the reappearance of the old and the emergence of new international, tribal and clan conflicts.

Thus, the numerical decline of the Russian people below the critical limit will lead to destabilization and destruction of the Russian Federation, contrary to the objective interests of all the peoples living in it. Many nations in this process could simply become extinct.

To understand the overall dynamics of the Russian population, let us recall the data from the relatively successful year of 2012. It was the third year of the population growth, which began in 2010. The lowest mark since 1985 was reached in 2009, when the population of the Russian Federation dropped to 141,903,979 people. In 2012, Russia had a population of 143,056,383 people (roughly a million more than in 2009). By 2013, Russia’s population has increased by almost 300 thousand people. Most of the growth was provided by a positive migration balance, but a miniscule (20,000) excess of births over deaths was also noted, that is, in 2012, Russia’s population for the first time has increased, and not only due to migration. But where did these 20 thousand come from? The number of Russians decreased by 88 000 people, while the population of other nationalities has increased by 108 000 people. The negative balance of 196 thousand is not for the benefit of the Russian people.

Forecast of births until 2030 does not give grounds for optimism. The regions with the highest birth rate with a high probability will remain the Chechen Republic, the Republic of Ingushetia, the Republic of Tyva, Republic of Dagestan, the Republic of Altai, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the Nenets Autonomous District, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkess Republic, and the Republic of Kalmykia. At the same time, the region with the lowest birth rate in 2030 will be: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Leningrad, Tula, Voronezh, Ryazan, Smolensk, Tambov regions and the Republic of Mordovia.

So, in the next 15 years, we have very little chance to counteract the situation with a gradual decrease in the number of Russians in Russia solely due to the natural population growth. Meanwhile, only from 1989 to 2010, the Russian population lost 8 million. Also we can deduct another 2 million Ukrainians (i.e., actually, the same Russian).

However, the population is changing not only due to the natural growth, but also due to migration flows, as well as by the addition of new territories. For example, over the same period (1989 to 2010) the number of Uzbeks in Russia doubled, and the number of Tajiks increased 1.5-fold . This change was achieved by migration.

At the same time, along with the Crimea, Russia received 1.9 million people. Of these, there are at least 300 thousand Tatars and 1.4 million Russians (Russian, Ukrainians, Belarussians). One extra million Russians – refugees from the Ukraine (from Donbass, as well as from central and southern regions). Of this number, approximately one fifth has already received Russian citizenship or is in the process of receiving it.

Thus, in just one year the country has received almost 2.5 million additional Russians. Moreover, the potential to fill the demographic losses from this source remains. With the worsening economic situation and increasing Nazi terror, the migration from the central and southern regions of Ukraine will intensify. Of course, not all who disagree with the policy of official Kiev are willing and able to go, but we can safely rely on another million of migrants.

However, it is much more profitable to take the Russian population with the territories. The number of Russian refugees from Ukraine is comparable to the number of Russians, who returned to Russia with Crimea. But what was needed in Crimea was just to change the documents and establish the government control, while refugees were left without livelihoods, and their care became a burden on the federal and local budgets, as well as volunteers collecting and delivering humanitarian aid. And many of refugees are still not settled.

In this connection, I wish to remind you about Donbass. At the beginning of 2014, about 7.5 million people lived in Donetsk and Lugansk regions. In contrast to Crimea, there was no significant Tatar community, that is, the number of Russians in Donbass exceeded the number of Russians in Crimea not only in absolute terms but also in the percentage of the population (if you include Ukrainians on paper). In areas now controlled by DNR/LNR, the population was about 4.5 million people. During the year of war, many became refugees, but the estimated population of the republics even now stands at 3-3.5 millions, and counting the population from the districts of DNR/LNR currently occupied by Kiev it reaches 5 million.

For all intents and purposes, DNR/LNR are already rapidly integrating into Russia. The economy, the finances , the education system, police and administrative structures – all tied to the Russian Federation. Without this, the republics will simply not survive. Also, there is no doubt that the population of the republics will be issued Russian passports in the near future. Otherwise, millions of people will remain without papers, but children will be born, people will marry, die, and, most importantly, cross the border to the Russian Federation. So, the problems that will be created by citizens of DNR/LNR without passports will overwhelm the problems potentially caused by the issue of Russian passports.

Kiev promises to launch a military operation to subdue Donbass, and Zakharchenko promises to liberate the territories of the republics occupied by Kiev. As you can see, the plans are the same. Poroshenko only needs to begin the military actions, and the territory (and the population) of DNR/LNR could increase dramatically.

Well, if the republics are economically, financially and administratively integrated into Russia, if they are inhabited by Russian citizens (after certification), all that is left is to hold a referendum, and the Russian population in Russia will increase by 3.5-5 millions. Together with Crimea and the refugees, it will fully compensate for the loss of eight millionth Russians in the period between 1989-2010 years, and the total population of Russia will increase to 150 million people (one and a half million more than it was at the peak of growth in 1995).

The population of Donbass will have a future (without having to leave their homes), and Russia will receive a few million additional Russian Orthodox citizens.

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