So why did you decide to write the book?
Having studied Russian politics all my life, and done so professionally for more than a decade, I’ve come away convinced that we Americans tend not to see Russia straight. This is certainly understandable. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Moscow has come roaring back onto the international scene in recent years. Our view of Russia, in turn, has been shaped by the perception that it is once again on the march. But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find that for all of its current troublemaking, the long-term strategic threat from Russia stems not from its strength but from its growing weakness.
Why do you believe Russia is collapsing?
Russia is collapsing because it now finds itself at the intersection of three profound changes. First, Russia is dying. Its population is constricting by close to half-a-million people every year as a result of both death and emigration. Second, Russia is transforming. The country’s Muslim minority isn’t facing the same demographic stressors as its Slavic majority is, and as a result is growing in proportion. It is also radicalizing, because widespread xenophobia and discriminatory policies on the part of the Kremlin have made Russia’s Muslims second-class citizens — and increased the appeal of extremist Islam throughout the country. Finally, there is the challenge from China. Russia’s Far East, which serves as the repository of the country’s prodigious energy wealth, is increasingly being coveted by a resource-hungry China. The result is growing strategic competition between Moscow and Beijing over the economic and political future of the Far East — a contest that, slowly but surely, China is winning.
By themselves, each of these trends would be deeply concerning. Taken together, they have the power to spell the end of the Russian state as we know it.
What are the causes of Russia’s demographic decline — and what will the consequences be?
The causes of Russia’s demographic decline are manifold. They include rampant alcoholism and drug abuse, a corrosive culture of abortion, an AIDS epidemic of frightening proportions, and massive out-migration by those with the means and initiative to do so. The results are nothing short of catastrophic. According to the Kremlin’s own projections, if current trendlines hold, Russia’s current population of 142.9 million could constrict by as much as a quarter by 2050. This phenomenon, which demographers have taken to calling “the emptying of Russia,” raises real questions about the country’s long-term viability as a nation-state.
Explain how China will play into Russia’s collapse.
The demographic trends playing out in Russia as a whole are also visible in the country’s energy-rich Far East, where the indigenous population (and its workforce) is dwindling and being replaced by both Chinese migrants and Chinese money. This is a real strategic challenge for Russia because Moscow, like Washington, has made a “pivot” to Asia a key economic and political priority. Unlike the U.S., though, Russia’s turn to the East is being stunted by the fact that it is actually in retreat in Asia — while China is on the rise there.