Five Myths About Russia
1. Russia’s population is “shrinking rapidly”

This might be the most common error in Western reporting. In reality,
Russia’s population is marginally higher now, at the start of 2013,
than it was in 2006. Russia’s population was declining rapidly
during the late 1990′s and early 2000′s, but this decline has leveled
off and the population has stabilized. Russia’s population could very
well start declining again in the future, but at the moment it is
actually growing (albeit at a glacial pace).

2. Russia’s economy is in “serious decline”

The idea that Russia’s economy is somehow “imploding” or “turning in
on itself” is encountered most frequently among right wingers, but was
also a favorite trope of centrist outfits like Newsweek or
The Economist. While Russia is hardly an economic hegemon, its overall
economic performance over the past decade has actually been pretty
decent, especially when you compare its performance to the horrible
post-crisis performances of many formerly communist countries in Eastern
Europe. It is possible that Russia’s economy might implode at some unknown future date, but at the moment it is experiencing modest growth.

3. Just like the Soviet Union, Russia ”spends all of its money on the military”

The Russian government’s bombastic pronouncement that it would spend
$700 billion on procuring new weapons in the years leading up to 2020
led a lot of people to think that Russia was returning to the garrison
state it had been under communism, when military spending was 30% of GDP
and the entire country was impoverished by the insatiable appetites of
the “metal eaters” in the defense ministry. While I would agree that
Russia’s defense spending is marginally higher than it ought to be, the
actual level of spending as a percentage of GDP is modest in comparison
to Russia’s own tortured past and even to the United States (the data is from ends in 2010 because that is the most recent year available)

4. Russia’s alcohol epidemic “continues unabated”

Russians drink a lot, there’s no arguing that. But, mercifully, they are drinking themselves to death a lot less
frequently than they did in the past. The death rate from accidental
alcohol poisoning has been shrinking rapidly over the past decade, and
is now lower than it was even during the height of Gorbachev’s
anti-alcohol campaign (when the Soviet government was doing things
like bulldozing vineyards). Russia’s death rate from alcohol is still very, very high when compared with Western countries, but it is improving.

5. Russians “have more abortions than kids”

This was true for a very long time, from the early 1960′s
until about 2007. Abortion really was Russians’ the preferred method of
birth control. But with almost no fanfare the number of abortions in
Russia (while still quite high in comparison to Western countries) has
been plummeting.

Basically, what these graphs show is that

1) Russia still has a lot of problems, and it remains extremely troubled in comparison to developed Western countries, and

2) things in Russia are actually improving at a reasonable clip.

Number 2) is a huge contrast to the “period of stagnation,” when
Russia’s most basic social indicators were visibly deteriorating. Thus
Russia in 2013, unlike Russia of the mid and late 1970′s, has a growing
birthrate, decreasing mortality, declining numbers of alcohol deaths,
and a broadly flat level of military spending. If we want to understand
what Russia is and where it’s going, we need to take its many positive
developments into account.