Opinion – Mathias Alencastro: War in Ukraine reveals tensions between demography, migration and racial issue

Opinion – Mathias Alencastro: War in Ukraine reveals tensions between demography, migration and racial issue

Often blamed on political and military tensions with what we are used to calling the West and the nationalist drift of the Putin government, the invasion of Ukraine is also the manifestation of a Russia obsessed with its demographic destiny.

The median age of its population is expected to reach 44 years old in 2035, up from 24 after the Second World War. A brutal decline, which seems to have been accelerated by the combination of alcoholism, low birth rate and high emigration rate.

Putin, who has been warning of this “demographic trap” for years, has tried to reverse the situation by all means. In the last decade his government distributed more than 9 million passports to inhabitants of neighboring countries. Economic emigration was also encouraged with the opening of borders to migrants from Central Asia and mainly from the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union.

But the measures brought marginal gains and political problems. Russia’s population, which peaked at 148 million in 1992, continues to decline and is expected to reach 130 million by 2050.

Nationalists expressed concern about the migration policy that they said would accelerate Russia’s incorporation into Asia. This historical question of the Russian political elite, largely culturally closer to Europe, has been constantly underestimated in analyzes of Russian-China relations.

Thus, the invasion of Ukraine can be interpreted as a response to the combined pressures of two interconnected phenomena, nationalism and demography. The independence of Ukraine, which was central to maintaining the superiority of the Slav population in the Soviet space, was experienced as an amputation by the nationalists.

If the annexation of Crimea brought a bonus of 2.5 million inhabitants, the incorporation of 40 million Ukrainians would change Russia’s demographic destiny.

The irony is that the war’s impact on Eurasia’s demographics, as brutal as it is transformative, will only complicate Moscow’s situation. With the exodus of women and young people, Ukraine’s remaining population, made up mostly of men of fighting age and the elderly, will lose much of its demographic potential.

Meanwhile, the European Union, which is also in population decline, will welcome at least 5 million Ukrainians. The war is revealing all the contradictions of European migration policy, increasingly based on the racist distinction between “good” and “bad” migrants.

Liberal right-wing candidate in France Valérie Pécresse expressed this idea perfectly when she said that refugees from the war of Ukrainian origin should be encouraged to settle in the country, while others, largely Africans, should be invited to “return to their countries”.

The tension between racial issues, demography and migration is global and will worsen over time. With the exception of Africa, all regions of the world are losing inhabitants. Absent from the Brazilian electoral debate, the demographic transition will be as important as energy and climate.

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