(2017) Declining use of Russian in post-Soviet states

Russian has lost more ground than any other language over the past 20 years as newly independent former Soviet states have attempted to assert their linguistic sovereignty.

The fading influence of the tongue highlights the fading influence of Moscow amid efforts by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, to reassert the former superpower’s importance on the world stage with its military interventions in Ukraine and Syria.

The use of Russian has retreated fastest in Kazakhstan, where in 2016 just 20.7 per cent of people said they typically spoke Russian at home, compared with 33.7 per cent in 1994, according to data from national censuses and the UN, collated by Euromonitor International, a research group.

The findings come in the week that Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, said the central Asian country would convert the Kazakh alphabet to Latin script, arguing that the transition to a Russian-style Cyrillic script in 1940 was motivated by “political reasons”.

Estonia and Latvia, two of the three former Soviet Baltic states, have each seen drops of about 10 percentage points in the proportion of their population citing Russian as their first language since 1994, with Russian speakers in Latvia falling from 40.5 per cent to 29.8 per cent, and those in Estonia from 33.3 per cent to 23.4 per cent, as the first chart shows.