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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Population Takes Biggest Plunge Yet

Russia's shrinking population took its largest post-Soviet drop in 1999, with decreasing immigration coming on top of a surplus of deaths over births.

The official population is now 145.6 million, down by 0.49 percent or 716,900 people during the first 11 months of 1999 compared to the same period in 1998.

The figures were reported Tuesday by Interfax, which cited the Russian Statistics Agency.

According to the report, besides extraordinarily high death rates and a low birth rate, decreasing immigration and an aging population were behind the latest phase in Russia's health and demographic crisis.

A total of 1,117,000 Russians were born from January through November of 1999, against 1,953,000 deaths, while during the same period in 1998, 1,179,900 people were born as opposed to 1,815,100 deaths.

Such statistics are usually calculated using information from birth and death registration across Russia.

Immigration to Russia, mainly from the Commonwealth of Independent States countries, slowed over the past year. The flow of immigrants slid from 478,600 people during the first 11 months of 1998 to 341,500 people during the same period of 1999.

The drop in the first 11 months of 1999 of 716,900 people, or 0.49 percent, was almost double the decrease of the same period in 1998 of 365,600 people.

The statistics agency said Russia's population was 148 million in 1990. It fell 0.02 percent in 1992, 0.2 percent in 1993, 0.04 percent in 1994, 0.2 percent in 1995 and 0.3 percent in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

According to all estimates performed by local and Western experts, Russia's population is likely to continue to decline in the future, which may have serious consequences for Russia's economy and position in the world.

"Russia is on the verge of a demographic crisis because we don't have very many children being born," Valentin Pokrovsky, the head of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, said in an interview with The Moscow Times earlier this month.

"If this trend does not change in 15 to 20 years, it will be very difficult for the country, because for each working person, there will be one or two people who cannot work," he said.

Experts have argued about the exact combination of reasons for the decline, but most point to Russia's high rate of alcohol consumption, especially among men, who lag far behind women in life expectancy. In one 1993 survey, 80 percent of Russian men said they drank alcohol, and other studies have shown that average consumption for both sexes is 400 grams per day, or three bottles of vodka a week.

Russia has an astonishingly high number of deaths from accidental alcohol poisoning, with 35,000 compared to some 300 a year in the United States, which has almost twice the population and a fair number of heavy drinkers as well. Heavy smoking and a fatty diet also contribute to high rates of heart disease.

Other experts point to "ecocide": the poisoning of the air, land and water by the Soviet authorities, and to the collapse of the Soviet-era health care system. Death rates from injuries suffered in auto accidents, for instance, are said to be several times higher than in European countries.

Some researchers have even suggested that stress and hopelessness play a role in early death. Although the dislocations from the fall of communism are often cited, life expectancy for men has been falling since 1964.

The falling population will strain the country's ability just to maintain economic output at its current level, Georgetown University demographer Murray Feshbach warned in a recent article. Others have also estimated that Russia's economic ranking and geopolitical standing will continue to fall as its health crisis continues.