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Russia's Population May Be Rising, Medvedev Says

Medvedev posing with children for a photo Wednesday at a Kremlin ceremony for parents with many children. Sergei Karpukhin

Russia may have bucked a post-Soviet population decline, President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday after announcing a 1.5 percent rise in the number of births during the first quarter.

The population rose by 10,000 to 141.9 million in 2009, stoking optimistic statements from senior health officials that a 6.6 million decline since 1995 may be coming to an end.

"For the first time in recent decades … the birth rate in our country has started to rise," Medvedev said, adding that 428,000 births had been registered in the first quarter, 1.5 percent more than in the same period last year.

Population forecasts are key to the economic models that see Russia growing much slower over the next 20 years than the other BRIC countries: Brazil, India and China.

A sharp change in population trends could improve growth predictions for Russia, though many experts say it is too early to call the end of the declines, which started in the chaos that accompanied the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

"I hope that we have managed to break those extremely unfavorable demographic trends," Medvedev told a Kremlin meeting to reward the parents of extremely large families.

But Medvedev, who administered a Kremlin drive to reduce the population decline while still a first deputy prime minister, did not mention that state statistics show that the overall population actually declined by 35,500 in the first quarter.

The decline was less steep than in the same period of 2009.

State statistics show Russia's population would have declined by 87,300 in the first quarter had it not been for migration, mostly from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Official forecasts factor in a whole range of variables that see the country's population either falling to 137 million or rising to 145 million by 2020. The figures for 2030 range from 128 million to nearly 148 million.

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