MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has registered the first population increase since the chaotic years which followed the fall of the Soviet Union, bucking a long-term decline that has dampened economic growth projections, officials said on Tuesday.
Russia's population increased by between 15,000 and 25,000 to more than 141.9 million in 2009, the first annual increase since 1995, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova told a meeting in the Kremlin with President Dmitry Medvedev.
The rise was helped by a 4 percent decline in mortality rates and an influx of immigrants, mostly from the former republics of the former Soviet Union, Golikova said.
"The difference between birth rates and mortality rates will be covered by a rise in migration," Golikova said in a televised Kremlin meeting, adding that Russia was trying to cut the number of abortions.
"Our abortion rates are comparable to birth rates," she said. Russia registered 1.7 million births in 2009 and 1.2 million abortions.
Russia's dire population forecasts -- some of which predict sharp declines over the next few decades -- are a key function of economic predictions which see Russia growing much slower over the next 20 years than the other BRIC countries; China, Brazil and India.
U.S. bank Goldman Sachs has said that a change in population forecasts could significantly change the long-term growth projections for Russia, whose economy contracted by at least 8.5 percent in 2009, its biggest annual decline in 15 years.
Goldman says Russia could grow by 1.5-4.4 percent a year from 2011-2050, way behind the 3.6-7.9 percent annual growth projection for China or the 5.8-6.6 percent annual growth projection for India.
"Russia is perhaps the least predictable and possibly the one with the scope to surprise the most," Goldman economist Jim O'Neill wrote in a report last month, adding that Russia's economy could overtake Germany's in 2029 and Japan's in 2037.
Russia's population rose slightly in the first four years after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, reaching 148.5 million in 1995, though it declined every year between 1995 and 2009. Russia is trying to stabilize its population at 145 million.
But officials say that the population could decline to 125 million by 2025 unless a host of measures, such as increasing the quality of medical care and reducing dangerously high levels of smoking and alcohol abuse are implemented.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Peter Millership