MOSCOW, Russia: Demographer Alexei Raksha reports that Russia has experienced its most severe population decline over the past 12 months in its history.
The country's natural population, calculated from registered deaths and births but excluding migration, declined by 997,000 between October 2020 and September 2021, added Raksha, who left state agency Rosstat last year after criticising its COVID-19 statistics.
Government data showed at least 660,000 excess deaths were recorded since the start of 2020, while previous reports indicated Russia's population decline in 2020 was 11 times greater than before the pandemic.
"It is pretty simple. The deaths caused by COVID-19 are the biggest reason for the decline," Raksha told The Guardian, noting that Russia's birth rate has also not decreased over the last year, indicating the decline was due to an increased death rate.
On Wednesday, Russia witnessed a new record number of COVID-19 deaths, as Russians continue to distrust the widely available locally-made vaccines, with only one-third of those eligible being fully vaccinated.
"I do not see how the situation can improve, given the current vaccine hesitancy and lack of restrictions," Raksha said.
The Kremlin was already focusing on Russia's population decline before the pandemic, which experts stressed will only make things worst, with the country's total population of some 145 million being lower than when Vladimir Putin first came to power in 2000.
The Kremlin has implemented policies and provided welfare payments to increase the country's birth rate, including handing out generous payouts to families with more than two children.
But a 2019 government report noted that Russia's population could decrease by more than 12 million by 2035.