Vladimir Putin has urged Russian women to have eight or more children and make large families “the norm” amid soaring numbers of casualties in his war against Ukraine.
Russia’s birth rate has been steadily falling since the 90’s and the country has suffered more than 300,000 casualties since the start of the Ukraine conflict, according to data maintained by Kyiv.
In a speech via video link at the World Russian People’s Council in Moscow on Tuesday, Mr Putin said boosting the Russian population will be “our goal for the coming decades”.
“Many of our peoples maintain the tradition of the family, where four, five or more children are raised,” said Mr Putin. “Recall that in Russian families our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had both 7 and 8 children. Let us preserve and revive these traditions. Having many children, a large family, should become a norm, a way of life for all the peoples of Russia.”
The conference is led by the head of Russia’s Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, and was attended by representatives of other traditional religious organisations of Russia. Its theme was “The Present and Future of the Russian World”.
Mr Putin has himself only publicly knowledged two children – daughters with his former wife Lyudmila, Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, who were hit with US sanctions after the invasion last year.
Nonetheless it has long been rumoured in the Russian press that he has multiple other offspring from his affairs with millionaire Svetlana Krivonogikh and Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Alina Kabaeva.
The Russian president’s comments did not directly refer to the scale of casualties suffered by Russian troops in his invasion of Ukraine.
The ongoing war is entering its second winter and has forced Mr Putin to order partial conscription, with Russian media reports from September saying Moscow aimed to mobilise up to one million reservists.
Earlier this month, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said the number of dead Russian soldiers in Ukraine had likely crossed 300,000.
The UK ministry also said thousands of bodies had been deserted on the battlefield.
The invasion has also led to an estimated 820,000-920,000 people fleeing Russia, according to independent policy group Re:Russia.
Other harmful impacts faced by Russia due to the invasion include a severe workforce shortage and an increasing economic slowdown brought about by sanctions imposed by the West.
Russia has been witnessing a decline in its birthrate since before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Experts attribute this decline to the deteriorating economy and stringent abortion regulations that act as deterrents for potential parents.
The Russian president has tried to increase the country’s ailing birthrate by implementing various government incentives for individuals with children, including financial rewards for families with more than one child, since coming to power 24 years ago.
But these measures have shown minimal to no effect, according to data from Rosstat, Russia’s federal statistics service, cited by the Le Monde newspaper.
The Russian population was reported to be 146,447,424 as of 1 January, lower than the figure in 1999 when Mr Putin assumed the presidency.
Source : Independent