Russia is in quite a bind as far as the Russian Far East is concerned. As Wall points out, the region is being depopulated of Russians, and millions of Chinese are migrating — whether temporarily or permanently remains to be seen — into Russia to work. Even if the Russian population remained static, however, Russia would still be facing demographic defeat in the territories it took from China in the 1860s.
Were Pacific Russia to return to China sometime during the twenty-first century, the consequences would not necessarily be dire, particularly if China exercises de facto rule before formalizing the transition.
This process shows, however, that alarms about Russia may be overblown. Yes, Russia is an increasingly substantial player in global energy markets. And yes, Vladimir Putin’s government has taken a frightening turn in the direction of outright autocracy. But increasingly Russia is imploding, so that even as super-wealthy Russians make splashes internationally and Putin’s government taunts and threatens, they are the shiny facade hiding a country in terminal decline. Russia’s inability to control its territory adjacent to China is just one example of how powerless it has become in the face of high mortality rates and a pervasive spiritual gloom.