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Author: As much as 2 percent of Russia’s potential population aborted every year

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Foreign policy expert Ilan Berman says Russia is falling apart — and that could bode ill for the United States.

“The scale of social and cultural rot in contemporary Russian society is truly staggering,” Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and editor of the Journal of International Security Affairs, told The Daily Caller in an email interview about his new book, “Implosion: The End of Russia and What it Means for America,” to be released Monday.

“Take abortion, for instance. According to official estimates, almost 1.2 million abortions are performed in Russia every year. That equals out to 300 babies every hour. According to unofficial projections, however, the true abortion rate could be as much as double that figure — which means that close to 2 percent of Russia’s potential population is being terminated every year!”

“Equally grim statistics can be found in the state of national health, in its alcoholism and drug addiction rates, and in its failing struggle to contain HIV/AIDS,” he continued. “It’s no wonder that one in five Russians now wants to live abroad — and almost half of Russians between the ages of 18 and 35 are actively considering doing so. Russia, simply put, is a dying project — and the Russians themselves know it.”

But the cultural rot is only part of Russia’s problem, Berman says. He says the country is imploding because its “population is constricting by close to half-a-million people every year as a result of both death and emigration;” because its population is “transforming” in that its “radicalizing” Muslim minority “isn’t facing the same demographic stressors as its Slavic majority is;” and because of the “challenge from China.”

“By themselves, each of these trends would be deeply concerning,” Berman said. “Taken together, they have the power to spell the end of the Russian state as we know it.”

According to Berman, Russia’s collapse threatens the “U.S. on a number of fronts.”

“The ascendance of radical Islam among Russia’s growing Muslim minority is especially troubling, because it has the potential to spill over to threaten the West,” he said. “As important is the re-emergence of a ‘neo-imperial’ impulse in Moscow driven by both ideology and demographics, because it suggests that Russia will act more and more aggressively toward its neighbors, raising the specter of war and authoritarianism throughout Eurasia in the process.”

Asked about the recent Russian proposal to help secure Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons in order to reduce tensions between the U.S. and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Berman said, “Russia’s proposal is certainly opportunely timed, and allows the Obama administration to save political face while walking back from a military option that’s deeply unpopular at home.”

“But it isn’t the product of U.S. military threats,” he continued. “Rather, it’s the result of Russia’s own strategic interests. Russia has worked diligently to keep the regime of Bashar al-Assad in power, both because it is a major client and because Syria houses Russia’s Mediterranean flotilla. If it is adopted, the proposal put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin accomplishes those goals – and simultaneously allows the Kremlin to outmaneuver the White House on the world stage.”

See below TheDC’s full interview with Berman on his book, Vladimir Putin and much more:

Before we talk about the book, what do you make of the deal currently floated by Vladimir Putin to solve the U.S.-Syrian impasse? The White House and its allies are suggesting the potential deal is the result of the president’s “credible” threat to strike the country? What do you think and what are your impressions of Putin’s strategic thinking in Syria?

Russia’s proposal is certainly opportunely timed, and allows the Obama administration to save political face while walking back from a military option that’s deeply unpopular at home. But it isn’t the product of U.S. military threats. Rather, it’s the result of Russia’s own strategic interests. Russia has worked diligently to keep the regime of Bashar al-Assad in power, both because it is a major client and because Syria houses Russia’s Mediterranean flotilla. If it is adopted, the proposal put forward by Russian president Vladimir Putin accomplishes those goals – and simultaneously allows the Kremlin to outmaneuver the White House on the world stage.


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.

What about Russia’s Muslim population? How do they play into this?

Russia’s Muslims are a key component of the country’s looming transformation. Currently, Muslims make up some 16 percent of the total Russian population. But they are reproducing, while Russia’s Slavs are not. By the end of this decade, estimates indicate that Muslims will make up a fifth of the overall Russian population — and by the middle of the century might reach parity with their Slavic counterparts. This demographic change is bound to fundamentally alter Russia’s character.

What does collapse actually mean? In your subtitle, you refer to the “End of Russia.” Do you mean that Russia is becoming much weaker or that the nation-state we call Russia will no longer exist?

By “the end of Russia,” I mean that the trends highlighted in the book have the power to transform the very nature of the Russian state. This does not mean that Russia will cease to exist, of course. But it is liable to look very different than it does today. In other words, it may not be clear where Russia will end up, but it’s already clear that the Russia we know today is rapidly going out of business.

How does Russia’s collapse threaten the U.S.?

Russia’s weakness represents a challenge for the U.S. on a number of fronts. The ascendance of radical Islam among Russia’s growing Muslim minority is especially troubling, because it has the potential to spill over to threaten the West. The tragic April 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon was an early indicator that this phenomenon has global ramifications. As important is the re-emergence of a “neo-imperial” impulse in Moscow driven by both ideology and demographics, because it suggests that Russia will act more and more aggressively toward its neighbors, raising the specter of war and authoritarianism throughout Eurasia in the process.

What should America do to protect itself from Russia’s collapse?

By now, it is abundantly clear that the “reset” of relations with Russia, which dominated the Obama administration’s foreign policy during its first term, has been a spectacular failure. What isn’t so obvious is what comes next in U.S.-Russia ties. Is it a strategic “pause,” a redoubled effort to engage the Kremlin, or something else altogether? A rethink is clearly in order. Part of that reconception needs to be the fact that Russia’s internal weaknesses represent a real, long-term threat — one that needs to be understood, and guarded against.

What are some of the most startling facts you discovered researching the book?

The scale of social and cultural rot in contemporary Russian society is truly staggering. Take abortion, for instance. According to official estimates, almost 1.2 million abortions are performed in Russia every year. That equals out to 300 babies every hour. According to unofficial projections, however, the true abortion rate could be as much as double that figure — which means that close to 2 percent of Russia’s potential population is being terminated every year!

Equally grim statistics can be found in the state of national health, in its alcoholism and drug addiction rates, and in its failing struggle to contain HIV/AIDS. It’s no wonder that one in five Russians now wants to live abroad — and almost half of Russians between the ages of 18 and 35 are actively considering doing so. Russia, simply put, is a dying project — and the Russians themselves know it.

How long will this collapse take? Is Putin accelerating the collapse or working to delay it?

It’s hard to estimate exactly how long of a process Russia’s unraveling will be. The strategic trends I outline in the book are long-term phenomena, and might take decades to fully manifest. But their influence is already being felt within Russia itself, and in how Russia’s government interacts with countries in the Muslim world and in its own “near abroad” of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Putin may not be accelerating this decline, but he’s certainly perpetuating it. That’s because, for all their talk of national greatness, he and his followers are not interested in making real investments in things like health and education, which are crucial to the long-term prosperity of the country. Instead, they have fostered a culture of corruption and unaccountability that is holding Russia hostage.

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