In available sources, an estimate of the possible population of Russia at 500 million, excluding Putin’s statement, is found in only one publication. In September 2017, in an interview with Invest Foresight, the head of the International Capital Markets Department of the IMEMO RAN Yakov Mirkin spoke:
– If Russia existed on the natural path of events, we would now live in a country with a population of 400-500 million people – these are statistical estimates of the beginning of the century.
Mirkin did not refer to any specific sources of this assessment (note that he himself is an economist, not a demographer). But one way or another, from his words it follows that this is not the opinion of any modern researchers, but forecasts of more than a century ago.
Of course, the population of the Russian Empire by the beginning of 1914 was 165.7 million people, and the population of the United States at the same time – about 100 million. Since then, the number of US residents has increased by about 3.3 times; if the population of Russia grew at the same rate, it would exceed 500 million. But the very idea of the “natural course of events” looks extremely doubtful. Revolutions and world wars do not happen without reasons, they are all the result of long-term accumulated contradictions that arose just in the course of the natural path of development.
The United States was not formed as an empire, the states do not differ radically from each other in ethnic composition. After the civil war of 1861-1865, there were no significant separatist tendencies there. A democratic system, free from class restrictions, and freedom of business created a ground that was unfavorable for revolutionary sentiments. Finally, due to the favorable geographic location, the United States did not have to wage wars on its territory. All this was not in Russia precisely because of its natural path of development.
It is curious that Putin, judging by his statement, considers the disintegration of the Russian Empire and the USSR, including the gaining of independence by Finland, Poland, and the Baltic states, as something not entirely natural.