Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has a direct human cost and a more difficult-to-measure loss of population in terms of emigration and low birth rates. Although it is very difficult to quote precise figures, Russia is not winning that war either.

The war initiated by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022 has resulted in the largest refugee migration in Europe since World War II, estimated by UNHCR at 7.6 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, fleeing to neighbouring countries, including Russia and those to the West.

More than four million Ukrainian refugees have registered for the EU’s temporary protection scheme or other national programmes.  However, more than six million people have returned home to Ukraine despite the war raging on, according to the latest figures from the International Organisation for Migration (IMO).

Reunification with male, elderly, or sick family members who were unable to make the journey was the primary reason for the return of refugees, a study has found.

In recent weeks, Russia’s strategy has been to cause new waves of migration to the West by destroying Ukraine’s electricity grid infrastructure. However, Ukraine’s population demonstrates remarkable resilience and no new waves of migration have been recorded, yet.

At the same time, roughly a million Russians have left their country, although nobody has attacked it. More than 300,000 Russian citizens are estimated to have left Russia by mid-March 2022, at least 500,000 by the end of August 2022, and an additional 400,000 by early October.

This number includes political refugees and economic migrants, with many IT experts among them, draft dodgers and millionaires. Unlike the case with Ukraine, most Russians who fled their country are men.

Following President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of partial mobilisation on 21 September, the largest wave of Russian emigration began.

According to data from various sources, in the first week after the announcement, 98,000 Russians fled to Kazakhstan, while on the border with Georgia, queues of Russian cars stretching more than 30 kilometres were reported.

Among the destinations chosen by Russian nationals is Turkey, with more than 100,000 Russians seeking residence there. In 2022, another 104,000 Russian citizens have reportedly registered their stay in Serbia.

Experts on global migration are calling the current exodus from Russia the largest since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution when millions of intellectuals and economic elites fled the rise of the Soviet Union. Russia’s population is in a historic decline as emigration coupled with a plunging birth rate to form a ‘perfect storm’.

Should military operations continue in the coming months, as expected, Russia may see fewer than 1.2 million births next year, the lowest in modern history. Total deaths in Russia average close to two million annually, though the number increased during the pandemic and approached 2.5 million last year.

Russian propaganda is not particularly successful in promoting higher birth rates. Mikhail Vasilyev, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, urged Russian women to have more children so it would be “easier for them to send their sons to war”.

The priest was recently killed “in the area of the special military operation in Ukraine while carrying out pastoral duties” and was awarded the title of Hero of Russia by Putin.

Against this background, the abduction of Ukrainian children to Russia clearly represents a state policy and a war crime of monumental proportions. Russia has deported 13,000 children from Ukraine since the start of the war, a Ukrainian official recently said.

Last October, an Associated Press investigation confirmed that Russian forces forcibly resettled Ukrainian children without their consent, lied to them that their parents rejected them, used them for propaganda, established summer camps for Ukrainian orphans and “patriotic education”, and gave them Russian citizenship and parents, with the aim of erasing their Ukrainian identity.

When the war ends – and it will have to end one way or another – the fate of these children will be a difficult chapter in the post-war settlement. In terms of nation-building, Ukraine is likely to emerge stronger despite its human losses.

For Russia, the war’s end is likely to be another milestone in its decline as a federation and an empire.

The Roundup

EU energy ministers agreed new rules on Monday to tackle methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, but were immediately criticised by the European Commission and campaigners for reducing the law’s initial ambition.

The EU, particularly Germany, will have significantly increased coal consumption and production by the end of the year, though structural decline is expected to start in the next three years, according to an International Energy Agency (IEA) report.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed on Monday a “historic” international deal on saving the world’s biodiversity, calling it “a roadmap to protect and restore nature”.

Agriculture and fisheries will not be included in the EU’s newly agreed Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), negotiators decided on Sunday – not the first time the EU has let the sector off the hook in terms of climate policy.

French livestock farmers have criticised the recently agreed EU-Chile trade agreement, which slashes most tariffs between both trading blocs, as it allows Chile to trade without having to respect the same standards that bind EU member states.

The EU and member states should work to make sure women stay in the labour market, to avoid “throwing away trained human capital” and ensure women’s financial independence, the EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli told EURACTIV in an interview.

Look out for…

  • Environment Council.
  • High Representative Josep Borell participates in the Bagdad Conference.
  • Council of Europe: Round table with Ukrainian human rights defenders.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]

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