This book arrived in my mailbox the day the Winter Olympics in Sochi began. It was disquieting to read Ilan Berman’s grim account of the dying of a once great state as the vulgar grandiosity of a Russia that no longer exists was put on artificial display.Implosionis not a work of history. The author, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, offers a breezy statistical flyover that captures in alarming detail what in his view is the inevitability of Russia’s diminishment. The population is shrinking due to emigration, a high mortality rate, the disintegration of the family, a culture of abortion, an AIDS crisis that officials term “epidemic,” and a total fertility rate of 1.34, far below the 2.1 needed to maintain the current population. In Berman’s words: “If the twentieth century was defined in large part by the rise of Russia (in the form of the Soviet Union), the twenty-first will be shaped in great measure by its unraveling.”
For readers of First Things, the most arresting sections of this small book deal with the future of Islam in Russia. The apparently inexorable growth of Islam in Western Europe is well known; Berman reports that the Muslim population is growing even more dramatically in Russia. Of course, many of the Muslims who were once part of the Soviet Union now live in the Turkic republics, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and the like; but a significant percentage live in territories that are now part of post-Soviet Russia. As the Slavic population constricts, their numbers expand. Between 1989 and 2002, the Slavs declined by nearly 4 percent and the Muslims grew by 20 percent. Muslims account for 21 to 23 million out of a population of 144 million (15 percent). Moscow is now home to two million Muslims. The religious transformation these numbers portend will have catastrophic consequences for the future of Christianity.