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21 September, 2013  ▪  Andriy Skumin


Revanchist ambitions in post-Soviet countries and the intent to retain Muslim peoples within its orbit fuel ethnic and religious tensions in Russia

Russia is seeing a rapid rise in the share of its Asian and Islamic population and a steep decline in the number of ethnic Russians and other Christian European peoples, including Ukrainians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Bulgarians and Greeks, that easily assimilate with the Russian culture and language.

Between 1989 and 2010, the total population of Russia shrank by just 4.1 million, from 147 to 142.9 million people. The share of Christian European peoples dropped by 12.7 million from 126.9 to 114.2 million. Other nations, mostly Asian Muslims, grew in number from 20.1 to 28.7 million. This does not take into account migrant workers from Central Asia, Azerbaijan, China and elsewhere. In July 2013, Konstantin Romodanovski, Head of the Russian Federal Migration Service, said that Russia has over 3.5 million illegal migrant workers and another 1.8 million people have permits to work in Russia. Experts estimate the number of migrant workers in Russia at nearly 10-11 million.

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If this trend continues, the number of Russians and European Christians is likely to fall to 100 million or below 70% of the total population by 2030, not counting illegal immigrants.

More challenges to the Russian traditional cultural matrix come from Vladimir Putin’s post-Soviet restoration projects. Central Asia is the only place where they actually have a chance to succeed. For instance, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the main sources of migrant workers in Russia, have the fastest growing populations. If Russia succeeds in luring them into the Eurasian Union, the share of Russians and Russified Christian Europeans in this new formation may just exceed 50%. This is one of the reasons why Moscow is now making every effort to integrate Ukraine into this union.


The latest Russian Census did not have a section for religion, but sociological surveys signal that Russia is becoming less Christian and more Islamic. According to Levada Centre, an analytical survey company, the share of Russian citizens identifying themselves as Orthodox has fallen from 80% to 74% over the past three years alone. Experts estimate the current number of Muslims living in Russia at nearly 20 million. 

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The Akhmat Kadyrov Mosque officially known as The Heart of Chechnya, the largest mosque in Russia, which is located in Grozny, came second in the second round of Russia 10, a recent online project to choose the top ten visual symbols of the country through a national vote.

According to the US National Security Council report published in 2012, the share of the Muslim population in Russia will grow from 14% to 19% by 2030. This may further fuel social and religious tension and xenophobic sentiments.


After the Putin regime liquidated the Chechen underground nationalist movement led by Aslan Maskhadov, Shamil Basayev and other nationalists, it essentially re-occupied the republic and set a time bomb under itself. The North Caucasus itself is a growing financial burden on Russia, and its detachment from the rest of Russia is becoming more and more obvious. In the spring of 2013, conscription to the Russian army[1] was not resumed in Chechnya and Dagestan. Meanwhile, Chechnya alone has nearly 80,000 young men ready to serve in the Russian military. So does Dagestan. The leaders of these two republics have asked Russian authorities to start enlistment there. However, only 120 Chechens and 179 Dagestanis were enlisted this spring. The former serve in Kadyrov’s (Ramzan Kadyrov is the Head of the Chechen Republic. The office was introduced in 2003 when the Russian government regained control of the region in the Second Chechen War – Ed.)  Vostok (East) and Yug (South) units in Chechnya, while according to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, the latter are ethnic Russians.

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Apparently, Russian authorities consider the population of these North Caucasus republics as foreign and dangerous – the citizens of occupied territories who are ready to switch to guerilla warfare at any time, and are thus reluctant to pay for the training of future fighters.

This is hardly a solution, though. The list of potential recruits in Chechnya and Dagestan has already hit 200,000, the equivalent of the army of a European state. Widespread unemployment will push these men to scatter throughout Russia or get military training in Islamist military units.

The Kremlin may keep what are essentially internal colonies attached by force and bribe their elites with generous funding. But it is not ready to recognize them as equal parts of its state. As a result, it is creating threats for the empire itself with its own hands.

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[1] Annual conscription for 12-month military service is mandatory for all male citizens aged 18-27

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