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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Demography and Migration in Post-Soviet Countries

P. 161-190.

The development of demographic processes in the post-Soviet area
demonstrates that a long existence within a single system determines the
laws of the development to some extent even after 30 years. In particular,
no matter how the geopolitical, economic and social conditions in the
countries of the former USSR have changed, in the migratory sense they
are largely ‘tied’ to each other. It may be argued that migration processes
are still connecting the post-Soviet region. However, the modern form of
migration processes would not be possible were it not for the profound
differences in the demographic behaviour of the population of the former
Soviet republics.
When it comes to demography, diverging trends between countries
of the Soviet Union started well before the dissolution of the latter; in
fact, differences between the western and eastern republics (the latter
meaning Central Asia and Azerbaijan) were visible as early as the 1960s
in terms of reproduction rate, as well as average life expectancy. These
trends resulted in significant changes in the ethnic composition of the
Soviet Union even before 1989, with the share of titular nations increasing
a lot faster in Central Asia than in Russia or Ukraine. These trends were further strengthened by the dissolution of the Soviet Union: demographic indicators significantly worsened in the western
part of the post-Soviet region, as well as in Armenia and Georgia, while
other countries experienced population growth. The ethnic composition
of the post-Soviet countries was further changed by the mass emigration
of ethnic Russians back to Russia, mainly in the 1990s.
Regarding this particular aspect, the research revealed that the numbers
of ethnic Russians living in countries of the former Soviet Union have
sharply decreased in the past three decades. While in 1989 more than
25 million ethnic Russians lived in these countries, by the 2010s their
numbers had dropped by nearly ten million, down to 15 million. The
main reasons for this sharp decline included emigration back to Russia,
assimilation, the lower fertility rate and, not least, higher natural mortality,
due to the fact that remaining Russians belong to older age cohorts
on average. As there is no reason to believe that these trends will change,
the presence of ethnic Russians in countries of the former Soviet Union
is likely to gradually lose its significance as a cohesive force in the region.
The position of the Russian language as a lingua franca is different,
however. Although in the 1990s the previously prioritized role of the
language decreased significantly in line with the establishment of new
states and identities, pragmatic considerations have still played a strong
role in the preservation of the Russian language even throughout the
2010s. Although Russian is recognized as an official state language only in
Belarus and Kyrgyzstan in addition to the respective titular languages, it
still serves as a language of international and inter-ethnic communication
in the other post-Soviet countries as well.
Hence, all in all, one may conclude that while demographic differences
in the post-Soviet region are increasing and the number of ethnic
Russians living in the successor states is sharply decreasing, migration
patterns, as well as the important role of the Russian language still serve
as strong cementing factors in the region as a whole.

In book

Helsinki: Finnish Institute of International Affairs, 2019.