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 hot and rainy to enjoy the true Russian winter.
This year, the sense of gloom is heightened by the sight of shuttered shops on many streets in the capital, as businesses grapple with the economic fallout from massive Western sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine, which Russian officials still call the “Military Operation.”
“The mood in Moscow and the country now is extremely dark, calm, intimidated and hopeless,” said Lisa, 34, who declined to give her last name and said she was a film producer. “The planning horizon is lower than ever. People have no idea what might happen tomorrow or a year from now.
While the shelves of most stores remain well stocked, Western products are becoming increasingly scarce and very expensive, further driving up the prices that are already hammering many Russian homes.
“Familiar products are disappearing, starting with toilet paper and Coca-Cola, ending with clothes,” Lisa said.
“Of course you can get used to all that, it’s not the worst thing at all,” she said. But it also attacked Western governments and companies that left the Russian market in response to the invasion of Ukraine. “I don’t really know how it helps to resolve the conflict, because it affects ordinary people, not those who make the decisions,” Lisa said.
Some economists believe that Russia will face growing economic difficulties and a population that will become increasingly critical of the “special military operation” amid growing defeats like those seen in the city of Kherson, in southern Ukraine, where a determined Ukrainian offensive forced a Russian withdrawal.
Sergey Javoronkov, a senior fellow at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, says the mood is already more critical than it was, thanks to “both the economic price tag and dissatisfaction with the unsolved task”, contrary to the expectations created by the Kremlin.
“We were supposed to win. Officials promised to capture Kyiv in three days but, as we see, it turned out to be foolish,” he told CNN.
“In his speech on February 24, (Russian President) Vladimir Putin said that military operations would be carried out only by professional troops. But in September, a partial mobilization was declared – an equally unpopular measure: those who do not want to fight are recruited.
“It is a known effect: a short victorious war can cause enthusiasm, but if the war goes on endlessly and does not lead to the desired result, then comes disappointment.”
A 30-year-old public relations executive who only gave her name because Irina disagrees, saying she believes the situation is stabilizing after an initial exodus of Russians not only fleeing Western sanctions but also a possible conscription after the announcement by Putin on September 21 of a partial mobilization on a national scale.
The Kremlin says more than 300,000 Russians were drafted into the army between late September and early November, while hundreds of thousands of mostly young Russian men fled the country, often to places like the Kazakhstan or Georgia.
“The first wave of panic has already passed, everyone has calmed down a bit. Many have left, 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 was opposed to the war in Ukraine, because she was beginning to understand, as for many Russians, that the fighting could go on for a very long time. This is especially the case since Ukrainian forces successfully recaptured the major city of Kherson from the Russian army – an area that Russia annexed in September and which Putin said would be 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 of course absurd,” Irina said, referring to the repeated assertion of Putin that Russia is acting in self-defense in its invasion of Ukraine.
Famous Russian blogger Dmitry Puchkov, nicknamed “goblin” and supporter of his country’s military operation in Ukraine, acknowledges that recent battlefield defeats have shaken the confidence of many people.
“From the point of view of civil society, it is not good that our troops leave the territories that are now part of the Russian Federation. But we believe this is a tactical decision and won’t last long,” he wrote, responding to CNN’s written questions online. Puchkov says he believes Russia will retaliate fiercely and force Ukraine into a ceasefire.
“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 and foremost the destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure. Electricity, hot water and heating systems must be destroyed,” he said.
The Kremlin appears to be following this playbook. Russian forces have repeatedly targeted power infrastructure in Ukraine in recent weeks, leaving more than 7 million people without power after a wave of strikes a week ago, according to Ukrainian officials. .
However, the Ukrainians remain resolute in the face of Russian missile attacks and hopes for a negotiated end to the war remain distant, even if the American general pushes for diplomacy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday called for increased support for Ukraine, telling NATO allies: “We must be ready to support Ukraine for the long term.”
Asked about the mindset of the Russian business community given the prospects of 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 recession, which he says will only get worse.
The country’s industrial companies are facing major problems replacing Western technology, which led carmaker AvtoVAZ – maker of the Lada brand of vehicles – to first halt production earlier this year and then switch to the production of certain vehicles without basic electronic features such as airbags and anti-lock braking. braking systems.
The problems span everything 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, tore up Medvedev’s idea in a rare moment of open criticism.
“What are we going to drive, we have nothing to drive. Are we going to drive wagons?” Popov shouted at a former Russian general who supported the idea of nationalization on the state television talk show “ 60 Minutes”.
“Let’s nationalize everything, but what are we going to drive, how are we going to telephone, 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 like China or Iran, but also of increasing Russia’s own production.
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 “an important event in the president’s calendar related to the development of domestic livestock and the selection of the meat and poultry sector of the agricultural industry”. A crucial sector that is directly linked to Russia’s food security.
But Russia’s increasing 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 re-establish ties with foreign countries than go it alone.
“I am waiting and hoping that all of this will end because there is nothing more precious than human lives,” she said.
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