Putin’s Other War: Convincing Russian Mothers to Have More Than 10 Children | Sandra Cohen’s blog

President Vladimir Putin has just reissued a Stalinist-era decree that rewards Russian mothers who have given birth to their tenth child with a medal and financial aid equivalent to US$16,500. The goal of the “Mother Heroine” program is to encourage the population to have large families and, with that, to combat the decline in the birth rate in the country, which will certainly have repercussions with the war it promotes in Ukraine.

In charge of Russia for 22 years and with a chance of staying in office until 2036, the president is obsessed with achieving demographic growth as well as a nostalgic way of reinforcing power along the lines of the Russian empire. The country has been experiencing rapid population loss since the 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The transition to the capitalist model, 30 years ago, was accompanied by economic crisis, unemployment and alcoholism. In addition to falling birth rates and rising mortality, immigration has dropped and the exodus of Russians to other countries has increased. The fertility rate — 1.58 births per woman — is currently one of the lowest in the world. And the population has aged, with an average age of 40.3 years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during an event in Moscow (Photo: Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS)

Upon taking office, Putin promoted a systematic campaign to promote birth rates and prevent population reduction, which recorded, between 1993 and 2008, a fall from 148.3 million to 143.2 million Russians. As of 2018, the government began subsidizing part of mortgage interest for families with more than two children and offered a kind of annual grant for those who had their first child. On the other hand, anti-abortion propaganda gained strength in the country.

The model proposed by the president has had results, but the pandemic of the new coronavirus and, more recently, the recruitment for the war, which Putin calls a special military operation, have stagnated the motivation of couples to increase their families. Population decline has tripled in the past two years.

The Kremlin does not even report the number of casualties in the Russian war in Ukraine, which the Pentagon estimates at 80,000 wounded and dead. Demographic projections indicate that by 2050, the number of inhabitants will shrink and will be between 130 million and 140 million inhabitants.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a virtual meeting inside the Kremlin on August 9, 2022 — Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

Faced with this prognosis, Putin then revived the program created by Stalin in 1944, when the former USSR was experiencing great population loss caused by the catastrophe of World War II.

According to the decree signed this week, the mother with ten children will be awarded a medal and money, in the same way as the recognition of Russian heroes for service to the country. The offspring must be alive and well cared for, although the government allows exceptions for those killed in military service or terrorist attacks.

The financial incentive is 150% higher than the average annual salary, but Putin faces another war: persuading Russian mothers to procreate.

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