Russians become more critical as Putin’s military operation drags on and sanctions take their toll


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November and December are known as the most depressing months in Moscow. The days are short and dark, and the weather is too cold and wet to be outdoors much, but still too warm and rainy to enjoy the true Russian winter.

This year, the feeling of melancholy is heightened by the sight of shuttered shops on many of the capital’s streets as businesses deal with the economic fallout from massive Western sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine, which Russian officials still call the “special operation military”.

“The atmosphere in Moscow and the country is now extremely gloomy, quiet, intimidated and hopeless,” said Lisa, 34, who declined to give her last name and claimed to be a film producer. “The planning horizon is lower than ever. People have no idea what could happen tomorrow or a year from now.”

While the shelves in most stores remain well stocked, Western goods are becoming increasingly scarce and very expensive, further driving up the prices that are already pounding many Russian households.

“Family possessions disappear, ranging from toilet paper and Coca-Cola to clothes,” Lisa said.

“Of course, you can get used to all this, this is by no means the worst thing,” she said. But he also punched Western governments and companies that left the Russian market in response to the invasion of Ukraine. “I really don’t know how this helps resolve conflict, because it affects ordinary people, not decision makers,” Lisa said.

Some economists believe that Russia will face mounting economic hardship and a population that will become increasingly critical of the “special military operation” amid mounting defeats such as those seen in the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, where a determined Ukrainian offensive has forced Russia to withdraw.

Sergey Javoronkov, a senior researcher at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, says the mood is already more critical than it was, thanks to “both the cheap price and dissatisfaction with the unsolved task,” contrary to expectations created by the Kremlin .

“We had to win. Officials promised to capture Kiev in three days but, as we see, it turned out to be foolish,” he told CNN.

“In his February 24 speech, (Russian President) Vladimir Putin stated that military operations would be conducted only by professional troops. But a partial mobilization was declared in September, which is also an unpopular measure: those who don’t want to fight are recruited.

“It’s a well-known effect: a short victorious war can cause enthusiasm, but if the war goes on forever and doesn’t lead to the desired outcome, then disappointment ensues.”

A 30-year-old PR executive who only gave her name because Irina disagrees, saying she believes the situation is stabilizing after an initial exodus of Russians fleeing not only Western sanctions but possible conscription later to Putin’s Sept. 21 announcement of a nationwide partial mobilization.

The Kremlin says more than 300,000 Russians were drafted into the army in late September and early November, while hundreds of thousands of mostly young Russians fled the country, often to places like Kazakhstan or Georgia.

“The first wave of panic has already passed, everyone has calmed down a bit. Many have gone, but many remain. I am happy with the people who stay and support Russia,” Irina told CNN.

At the same time, she stressed that she is against the war in Ukraine, as it is beginning to understand for her, as for many Russians, that the fighting could go on for a long time. This is especially true as Ukrainian forces managed to retake the main city of Kherson from the Russian military, an area Russia annexed in September and which Putin said would remain part of Russia “forever”.

“I have a negative attitude. I believe that any aggression or war is evil. And to say that if we didn’t attack them, they would attack us is obviously preposterous,” Irina said, referring to Putin’s repeated claims that Russia is acting in self-defense in its invasion of Ukraine.

Prominent Russian blogger Dmitry Puchkov, who calls himself “Goblin” and supports his country’s military operation in Ukraine, acknowledges that recent battlefield defeats have shaken many people’s confidence.

“From the point of view of civil society, it is not good for our troops to leave the territories that have become part of the Russian Federation. But we think it’s a tactical move and it won’t be around long,” she wrote, responding to written questions from CNN online. Puchkov says he believes Russia will retaliate viciously and force Ukraine into a ceasefire.

Russian citizens conscripted during partial mobilization are sent to combat coordination areas after a military call-up for the Russia-Ukraine war in Moscow, Russia, Oct. 10, 2022.

“The morale of the Russian army is very high,” Puchkov wrote, explaining how he thinks victory will be achieved. “The necessary strategic decisions are well known: first of all it is the destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure. The electricity, hot water and heating systems must be destroyed,” he said.

The Kremlin appears to be following that manual. Russian forces have repeatedly targeted electricity infrastructure in Ukraine in recent weeks, leaving more than 7 million people without electricity following a wave of attacks a week ago, according to Ukrainian officials.

Ukrainians remain resolute in the face of Russian missile attacks, however, and hopes for any sort of negotiated end to the war remain distant, even as top American generals push for diplomacy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday called for more support for Ukraine, telling NATO allies: “We must be ready to support Ukraine for the long term.”

When asked what the mood is in the Russian business community given the prospects for a protracted conflict, Javoronkov used one word: “Pessimistic!”

“Economic experts realize that nothing is expected for the economy if military actions continue,” Javoronkov said. The Russian economy is now officially in a recession, which he says will only get worse.

The country’s industrial companies are facing major problems replacing Western technology, leading the AvtoVAZ automaker – maker of the Lada vehicle brand – to halt production earlier this year and then switch to production of some vehicles without basic electronic features such as airbags and anti-lock braking systems.

A Ukrainian tank is seen as the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to contest the front line in Kherson region of Ukraine on November 9, 2022.

The problems range from the airline industry to consumer electronics, leading former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to call for a nationalization of foreign assets.

Yevgeny Popov, a well-known journalist and member of the Russian parliament, ripped off Medvedev’s idea in a rare moment of open criticism.

“What are we going to drive, we have nothing to drive. Will we drive the railway carriages? Popov yelled at a former Russian general who supported the idea of ​​nationalization on the state TV talk show ’60 Minutes’.

“We nationalize everything, but what are we going to drive, how are we going to make phone calls, what are we going to do? Yes, all of our technology is Western,” Popov said.

The Kremlin has promoted the idea of ​​replacing Western goods with products and technologies from allied countries such as China or Iran, but also of increasing Russia’s own production.

The Russian Foreign Ministry building can be seen behind a billboard displaying the letter

On Monday, Putin opened – via video link – a turkey farm in the Tyumen region. The move was hailed as a sign of Russia’s growing economic independence by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who called it “a significant event in the president’s agenda related to the development of domestic breeding and selection of the meat and poultry sector of the agricultural industry. A crucial sector that is directly connected with Russia’s food security”.

But Russia’s growing isolation from the world is not necessarily welcomed by all of its citizens. Film producer Lisa said she would rather her country end the war and renew ties with foreign countries than do it themselves.

“I wait and hope it all ends because there is nothing more precious than human lives,” he said.

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