Russia is literally dying. From a population peak in 1992 of 148 million, it will be down to below 130 million by 2015 and thereafter dropping to perhaps 50 or 60 million by the end of the century, a third of what it was at the fall of the Soviet Union. It needn’t decline at a consistent rate, of course. But I’d say it’s more likely to be even lower than 50 million than it is to be over 100 million. The longer Russia goes without arresting the death spiral, the harder it is to pull out of it, and when it comes to the future most Russian women are voting with their foetus: 70 per cent of pregnancies are aborted. . . .
Russia is the sick man of Europe, and would still look pretty sick if you moved him to Africa. It has the fastest-growing rate of HIV infection in the world. From virtually no official Aids cases at the time Putin took office, in the last five years more Russians have tested positive than in the previous 20 for America. The virus is said to have infected at least 1 per cent of the population, the figure the World Health Organisation considers the tipping point for a sub-Saharan-sized epidemic. So at a time when Russian men already have a life expectancy in the mid-50s — lower than in Bangladesh — they’re about to see Aids cut them down from the other end, killing young men and women of childbearing age, and with them any hope of societal regeneration. By 2010, Aids will be killing between a quarter and three-quarters of a million Russians every year. It will become a nation of babushkas, unable to muster enough young soldiers to secure its borders, enough young businessmen to secure its economy or enough young families to secure its future. True, there are regions that are exceptions to these malign trends, parts of Russia that have healthy fertility rates and low HIV infection. Can you guess which regions they are? They start with a ‘Mu-’ and end with a ‘-slim’. . . .
Most of the big international problems operate within certain geographic constraints: Africa has Aids, the Middle East has Islamists, North Korea has nukes. But Russia’s got the lot: an African-level Aids crisis and an Islamist separatist movement sitting on top of the biggest pile of nukes on the planet. . . .
What would you do if you were Putin? What have you got to keep your rotting corpse of a country as some kind of player? You’ve got nuclear know-how — which a lot of ayatollahs and dictators are interested in. You’ve got an empty resource-rich eastern hinterland — which the Chinese are going to wind up with one way or the other. That was the logic, incidentally, behind the sale of Alaska: in the 1850s, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich, the brother of Alexander II, argued that the Russian empire couldn’t hold its North American territory and that one day either Britain or the United States would simply take it, so why not sell it to them first? The same argument applies today to the 2,000 miles of the Russo–Chinese border. Given that even alcoholic Slavs with a life expectancy of 56 will live to see Vladivostok return to its old name of Haishenwei, Moscow might as well flog it to Beijing instead of just having it snaffled out from under.
That’s the danger for America — that most of what Russia has to trade is likely to be damaging to US interests. In its death throes, it could bequeath the world several new Muslim nations, a nuclear Middle East and a stronger China.
A great--and terrible--piece from Steyn.