By Gudrun Schultz

MOSCOW, Russia, May 10, 2006 ( –Plunging birth rates are the central factor in Russia’s “critical” population decline, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an annual address to the nation, reported the BBC today.

Russia’s falling birth rate is leading to a population crisis in the country, with an annual decline of 700,000 people. Increasing mortality rates and migration are also contributing factors, said President Putin.

In an effort to counteract the plummet in birth rates, President Putin announced a ten-year national programme designed to encourage women to have more children. An increase in childcare benefits to support young mothers would be a central element to the programme, especially for women having more than one child.

“We must, at least, stimulate the birth of a second child,” the president said.

Abortion rates in Russia are some of the highest in the world. Conservative estimates indicate 60% of all pregnancies end in abortion. LifeSiteNews reported in August that Russia’s abortion rates exceeded the national rate of birth for the first time in 2005.

The country’s population is estimated to be just under 143 million people.

See previous LifeSiteNews coverage:

Russian Demographic Situation Worsening – Abortions Outstrip Births

Russian Abortion Killing and Sterilizing Millions; Demographic Collapse Likely to be Worse than Previously Predicted