Cablegate: Viewing Russia's Demographic Crisis Through a Political

DE RUEHMO #5522/01 3301457
R 261457Z NOV 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: A. Moscow 1834
B. Moscow 1811
C. Moscow 1434
D. 06 Moscow 12348

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Although Russia's demographic crisis has not been
a major issue during the Duma elections campaign, most of the
political parties have focused some attention on reversing the
population decline by encouraging higher birth rates. Led by
President Putin, United Russia has crowed over recent improvements
in both fertiliy and mortality statistics, introduced a National
Demographics Concept, supported new GOR restrictions on abortions,
and backed a family values project in ten pilot regions. Just
Russia leader Sergey Mironov has proposed greater financial
incentives for families that have two or more children, including
government-backed home mortgages, while Communist Party leader
Gennadiy Zyuganov has urged every family to have three children.
The candidates have focused on popular anti-abortion and pro-birth
measures and largely avoided tougher questions like what to do about
Russia's high mortality from alcohol and tobacco use. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Putin Leads Way, Adopts National Demographics Concept
--------------------------------------------- --------

2. (U) During a November 21 nationally televised rally in support of
United Russia, President Putin took credit for recent improvements
in both mortality and fertility statistics: "Thanks to the active
social policy, mortality is going down. For the first time in
recent years -- I pin great hopes on the audience here -- the birth
rate is growing." Putin's brief comment echoed previous statements
from leading GOR officials and United Russia campaigners that the
recent demographic improvements resulted from the National Priority
Health Project (Ref B) and new financial incentives to encourage
more births (Ref A).

3. (U) On October 9, Putin also signed an 11-page National
Demographics Concept, which lays out three basic stages of
demographic planning through 2025. During the first stage
(2007-2010), the GOR plans to limit natural population loss by
reducing deaths from road accidents, cardiovascular disease and
other preventable causes, improve maternal and child health care and
social and family conditions to encourage more births, and increase
immigration. From 2011-2015, the GOR will attempt to stabilize the
Russian population at the level of 142-143 million, by improving the
health of the population and encouraging healthy lifestyles;
creating favorable conditions for women to both work and bear
children; and increasing financial incentives for families to have
multiple children. In the final stage (2016-2025), the government
will take "preemptive measures" to prevent a worsening of the
country's demographic situation and achieve a population level of
145 million, even though there will be a significant decline in the
number of women of reproductive age during this period. The GOR has
admitted that the concept paper still needs a concrete action plan
for achieving these ambitious goals. The GOR is supposed to present
an action plan with specific measures in early 2008.

Russia Gets Tougher on Abortions

4. (U) At the beginning of November, the Ministry of Health and
Social Development reduced the number of social and medical reasons
that will justify a state-funded abortion. The MOHSD also published
new rules requiring a woman to consult with a social worker and sign
an informed consent form before having an abortion in a
government-funded clinic. The ministry is also reportedly
considering, but has not yet implemented, a ban on abortions in
private clinics. (NOTE: In 2006, for the first time in the last 50
years, there were more births than abortions reported in Russia.
The trend of fewer reported abortions than births is expected to
continue in 2007, though the officially registered abortions do not
include the 15-20 percent of abortions that take place in private
clinics. END NOTE.)

5. (SBU) Some observers, such as consultant Kirill Danishevskiy from
the Open Health Institute, believe that the imposition of greater
restrictions on abortions was an "obvious attempt" by the Government
and United Russia to do something about Russia's low fertility rates
during the Duma election campaign. These efforts would bolster
earlier GOR attempts to stimulate more births, such as the 250,000

MOSCOW 00005522 002.2 OF 003

ruble payment to families who have a second child and basic
improvements to maternal and child health care under the National
Priority Health Project (Refs A, B). The new restrictions also may
have been a concession to Russian "pro-life" religious groups. Most
observers do not believe the new rules will have much of an impact
on the actual number of abortions in Russia, given that dozens of
medical reasons still remain in place permitting abortions in
government-funded clinics, and abortions are still freely available
in private clinics.

6. (U) Some fringe parties have proposed even greater restrictions
on abortions, all of which the Duma has rejected. Sergey Baburin,
leader of the People's Union Party and a vice speaker in the Duma
that ended November 16, proposed a draft law banning all abortions
except for certain medical reasons, and fines of 80,000 rubles for
health providers who violated the ban. Rodina party members
introduced legislation in the Duma a year ago requiring a husband's
consent for a woman to have an abortion.

Promoting Family Values

7. (U) In addition to supporting Putin's National Demographics
Concept and GOR measures to restrict abortions, United Russia also
supports the "Strong Family" project, which was launched in August
2006 and is being implemented in ten regions. The project aims to
reduce teenage crime, prevent abandonment of children, support young
volunteers working with families and at-risk youth, and encourage
the public to embrace strong family values. The party gives awards
to the most successful participants in the program, which includes
about 35,000 families who are raising 55,000 children and

Russians Should Bring Forth and Multiply

8. (U) Many politicians have argued that Russians should simply have
more children and not rely on immigration to solve the problem of a
shrinking population. Just Russia leader and Federation Council
Speaker Mironov has adopted a strong pro-birth, anti-immigration
policy. He has proposed that the GOR fund half of home mortgages
for families that have a second child and fund the entire mortgage
if a third child is born. Although Mironov is generally opposed to
immigration, he does support efforts to stimulate a greater influx
of Russian speaking migrants from CIS countries. He would provide
Russian citizenship to those who pass Russian language, culture and
history tests. In contrast to demographic forecasts that the
Russian population will continue shrinking and be somewhere in the
neighborhood of 100 million by 2050, Mironov has bullishly predicted
that Russia will have a population of 250 million people by 2050.

9. (U) Communist Party Leader Gennadiy Zyuganov, in a recent address
to students, stated that every Russian family should have three
children. Beyond this platitude, the Communists have said little
recently about the demographic crisis. Historically, they have
blamed Yeltsin for sowing the seeds of a "population genocide,"
arguing that declines in fertility and increases in mortality began
during his presidency. (NOTE: Experts generally agree that the
population loss resulted from long-term trends in declining
fertility and increasing mortality that began during the Soviet era.
However, they note that political instability, economic uncertainty
and stress did play a role in worsening mortality and fertility
statistics during the Yeltsin years. END NOTE.)

10. (SBU) The Yabloko Party has argued that the demographic
situation should be improved through greater support for families,
mothers and children, and by reducing morbidity and mortality from
environmental factors. The party has not presented any specific
plans for achieving these goals. On November 20, the Urals State
Economic University in Yekaterinburg "without explanation" revoked
an invitation for Yabloko Party leader Grigoriy Yavlinskiy to
deliver a speech at a demographics conference at the university.

11. (U) LDPR Leader Vladimir Zhirinovskiy (known for making
provocative comments) has mentioned the legalization of polygamy,
which in his view would lead to more Russian births, especially
given that there are fewer Russian men than women. Zhirinovskiy
also recently suggested that Russia accept males from overpopulated
countries who are willing to marry single Russian women and raise
families with them.


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What About Preventable Mortality?

12. (U) Politicians have paid little attention to dealing with high
mortality rates, particularly among men, where the average life
expectancy is 60.37 years of age. The general consensus among
experts is that this would lead more quickly to demographic
improvements than trying to stimulate births. President Mikhail
Davydov of the Academy of Medical Sciences has argued that the GOR
made a fundamental error by focusing so much attention over the past
18 months on promoting greater births through financial incentives
(Ref A). In his view, the GOR should have made a concentrated
effort to reduce the number of deaths from preventable causes, such
as road and workplace accidents, alcohol poisonings, suicides and
murders. Likewise, Kirill Danishevskiy, a consultant at Russia's
Open Health Institute, has argued that the government could greatly
reduce mortality and increase life expectancies among the
working-age population by adopting programs aimed at reducing the
prevalence of hard alcohol drinking and smoking, which most experts
agree are the main factors driving Russia's high mortality (Refs A,
C, D).

13. (U) Despite these criticisms, some components of the National
Priority Health Project are aimed at reducing preventable mortality,
such as modernizing and expanding Russia's ambulance fleet and
building high-tech medical centers (Ref B). The National
Demographics Concept signed by Putin does not address either smoking
or hard alcohol consumption. Many analysts believe such measures
would be politically unworkable, given the lingering history of
Gorbachev's unpopular attempts to restrict alcohol consumption (Ref
A, C), as well as strong tobacco and hospitality lobbies opposed to
greater restrictions on smoking (Ref A).

14. (U) Despite the political difficulties in regulating alcohol and
tobacco, the Just Russia party platform includes a complete ban on
alcohol and tobacco advertising, restrictions on the number of
retail locations where alcohol can be sold, and a state monopoly for
the production and sale of ethyl alcohol (the main ingredient in
vodka). The party also would establish a state-funded network of
health care facilities for the mandatory treatment of alcoholism and
drug addiction and social services for alcoholics and drug addicts.

15. (U) The Just Russia party's platform also calls for the GOR to
spend 5 percent of GDP on health expenses (the GOR now spends 3.66
percent of GDP on health, according to the WHO). The party also
wants the GOR to set maximum retail prices for drugs, provide free
medical care for all children, and introduce mandatory testing for
drug use in high schools and universities.


16. (SBU) Despite the magnitude of the problem, demographic issues
have not featured prominently in the run-up to the December 2 Duma
elections. Politicians have focused on popular anti-abortion and
pro-birth measures and largely avoided tougher questions like what
to do about Russia's high mortality, with only Just Russia taking a
stab at measures against heavy alcohol and tobacco use.


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