When Vladimir Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine, the war seemed far from Russian soil. But within days, the conflict came home — not with cruise missiles and mortars but in the form of an unprecedented and unexpected broad barrage of sanctions by Western governments and economic sanctions by corporations.
Three months after the February 24 invasion, Many ordinary Russians are reeling from these blows to their livelihoods and their emotions. Moscow’s mega-shopping centers have turned into spooky expanses of closed storefronts once occupied by Western retailers.
McDonald’s—whose opening in Russia in 1990 was a cultural phenomenon, a gleaming modern convenience come to a bleak country brought down by limited options—withdrew from Russia entirely in response to its invasion of Ukraine. IKEA, an example of affordable modern amenities, outstanding operations. Tens of thousands of jobs that were once secure are now being called into question in a very short time.
Major industrial players including oil giants BP, Shell and Renault have pulled out, despite their huge investments in Russia. Shell estimated it would lose about $5 billion by trying to offload its Russian assets.
As the multinationals were leaving, thousands of Russians who had the economic means to do so were also fleeing, frightened by the harsh new government moves associated with the war that they saw as a slide into totalitarianism. Some young men may also have fled, fearing that the Kremlin would impose conscription to fuel its war machine.
But the escape is more difficult than it used to be – the 27 European Union countries, along with the United States and Canada, have banned flights to and from Russia. Once an easy weekend destination for a 90-minute flight from Moscow, the Estonian capital Tallinn took at least 12 hours to make a road through Istanbul.
Even indirect travel via the internet and social media has diminished for Russians. Russia in March banned Facebook and Instagram – although this can be circumvented with a VPN – and closed access to foreign media sites, including the US government-funded BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle .
After Russian authorities passed a law calling for prison terms of up to 15 years for stories that included “false news” about the war, several independent news media closed or suspended their operations. These include Radio Ekho Moskvy and Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper whose editor Dmitry Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
The psychological cost of repression, limitations, and diminished opportunity may be high for ordinary Russians, though difficult to measure. Although some public opinion polls in Russia indicate that support for the Ukraine war is strong, the results were likely skewed by respondents who remained silent, and cautioned against expressing their true opinions.
Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote in a commentary that Russian society is currently dominated by “aggressive submission” and that the deterioration of social ties can accelerate.
“The discussion is getting wider and wider. You can call your fellow citizen, but one who has a different opinion – a ‘traitor’ and consider him an inferior kind of person. You can, like most high-ranking state officials, speculate freely and calmly about the possibilities of nuclear war. (This ) something that was definitely not allowed in Soviet times during Pax Atomica, when both sides realized that the ensuing damage was completely unimaginable.”
“Now that understanding is waning, and this is another sign of the anthropological catastrophe that Russia is facing,” he said.
The economic consequences are not yet fully visible.
In the early days of the war, the Russian ruble lost half its value. But the government’s efforts to support it actually raised its value above its pre-invasion level.
But in terms of economic activity, “that’s an entirely different story,” said Chris Weaver, a veteran Russian economics analyst at Macro-Advisory.
“We are seeing a deterioration in the economy now across a wide range of sectors. Companies are warning that they are running out of spare parts stocks. Plenty of companies are putting their workers on part-time jobs and others are warning them they have to shut down entirely. So there is a real fear that unemployment will rise during the summer months, and that there will be a significant drop in consumption, retail sales and investment,” he told The Associated Press.
Weaver said the relatively strong ruble, however encouraging it may sound, also poses problems for the national budget.
They effectively receive their revenue in foreign currency from exporters and their payments are in rubles. So the stronger the ruble, the less money they have to spend.” “(This) makes Russian exporters less competitive, because they are more expensive on the world stage.”
If the war continues, more companies may leave Russia. Weaver suggested that only those companies that have suspended operations might resume them if a ceasefire and peace agreement is reached for Ukraine, but said the window for that could close.
“If you walk around the malls in Moscow, you can see that many fashion stores, Western business groups, have simply removed their doors. Their shelves are still full, the lights are still on. They simply are not open. So they have not withdrawn yet. They are waiting to see what happens next.
Weaver said that these companies will soon be pressured to resolve the impasse in their Russian companies.
“We are now getting to the point where companies are running out of time, or perhaps impatient,” he said.
Follow all AP articles on the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
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