Speed Reads

Numbers don't lie

If demography is destiny, Russia is in big trouble

Oleg Nikishin/Newsmakers

Here's another theory to explain Russian President Vladimir Putin's bold gobbling up of Crimea and menacing troop buildup on Ukraine's borders: He's not trying to restore Russia's former czarist (or even Soviet) glory, but rather distracting Russians from their nasty, brutish, and short lives. This theory comes from Maureen Orth, who profiled Putin for Vanity Fair in 2000 and revisited Putin's Russia at the magazine on Monday.

Specifically, Orth talked to demographers to get a sense of the numbers in Russia. "They do not make a pretty picture," she concludes. Read Orth's full post for a damning glimpse at the state of Russia, but here are a few numbers that show why Russians might appreciate a nationalistic conquest to take their minds off of things at home:

64 — life expectancy for Russian men (137th in the world)76 — life expectancy for Russian women (100th)30 — percentage of Russian babies who are born healthy77 — percentage of Russians age 15 to 17 who drink vodka regularly50 — percentage of Russian water that is safe to drink

It's not at all clear that demographic changes will soon turn Texas blue (or even purple), as Democrats fervently hope, but it seems pretty clear that an aging, sickly, hard-drinking, early-dying Russia will have a hard time regaining its stature as a global economic powerhouse, much less a military superpower. Putin had better make the small victories count.