As Putin’s military operation drags on and sanctions take their toll, Russians are becoming more critical


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 outside much, but still too warm and rainy to enjoy the real Russian winter.

This year, the sense of melancholy is heightened by the sight of closed shops on many of the capital’s streets as companies face the economic fallout from massive Western sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine, which Russian officials still describe as “special”. military operations.”

“The mood in Moscow and across the country right now is extremely somber, calm, intimidated and hopeless,” said Lisa, 34, who declined to give her last name and said she is a film producer. “The planning horizon is shorter than ever before. People have no idea what could happen tomorrow or in a year.”

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

“Familiar goods are disappearing, from toilet paper and Coca-Cola to clothing,” says Lisa.

“Of course you can get used to all this, it’s not the worst thing at all,” she said. But it has also attacked Western governments and companies that have exited the Russian market in response to the invasion of Ukraine. “I don’t really know how that helps resolve the conflict because it affects ordinary people, not the ones making decisions,” Lisa said.

A woman pushing her shopping cart with purchases looks at the window of an empty store in a shopping center November 18, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.

Some economists believe that with mounting defeats such as in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, where a determined Ukrainian offensive forced a Russian retreat, Russia will face mounting economic hardship and a populace increasingly critical of the “military special operation.”

Sergey Javoronkov, a senior researcher at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, says the mood is already more critical than before thanks to “both the economic price and dissatisfaction with the unresolved task,” contrary to expectations caused by the Kremlin .

“We should win. Officials promised to capture Kyiv in three days, but as we see, that turned out to be stupid,” he told CNN.

“In his February 24 speech (Russian President) Vladimir Putin stated that military operations would be conducted only by professional troops. But in September a partial mobilization was announced – also an unpopular measure: those who do not want to fight are recruited.

“It’s a well-known effect: a brief, victorious war may inspire excitement, but when the war goes on indefinitely and doesn’t produce the desired result, then disappointment follows.”

A 30-year-old public relations executive, who only gave her name because Irina disagreed and said she believes the situation is stabilizing after an initial exodus of Russians fearing not only Western sanctions but possible conscription flee after Putin’s announcement of a nationwide partial mobilization on September 21.

More than 300,000 Russians were drafted into the military between late September and early November, according to the Kremlin, while hundreds of thousands of mostly young Russian men fled the country, often to countries like Kazakhstan or Georgia.

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

At the same time, she stressed that she was against the war in Ukraine because, like many Russians, she was beginning to realize that the fighting could go on for a very long time. This is especially true since Ukrainian forces managed to retake the major city of Kherson from the Russian military — an area that Russia annexed in September and that Putin said would remain part of Russia “forever”.

“You 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 Putin’s repeated claims that Russia is acting in self-defense in its invasion of Ukraine.

Well-known Russian blogger Dmitry Puchkov, who goes by the nickname “Goblin” and supports his country’s military operation in Ukraine, admits 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 areas that have become part of the Russian Federation. But we think it’s a tactical move and won’t last long,” he wrote, answering written questions from CNN online. Puchkov says he believes Russia will fight back fiercely and force Ukraine into a ceasefire.

Russian citizens drafted during partial mobilization are deployed to combat coordination areas following a military call-up for the Russia-Ukraine war in Moscow, Russia October 10, 2022.

“The morale of the Russian military is very high,” Puchkov wrote, describing how he believed victory would be achieved. “The necessary strategic decisions are known: First and foremost is the destruction of the Ukrainian infrastructure. The electricity, hot water and heating systems must be destroyed,” he said.

The Kremlin seems to be following this playbook. According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces have repeatedly attacked Ukraine’s power infrastructure in recent weeks, leaving more than 7 million people without power after a wave of strikes a week ago.

However, Ukrainians remain resolute in the face of Russian missile attacks, and hopes of a negotiated end to the war remain elusive even as America’s top general urges diplomacy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday called for more support for Ukraine, telling NATO allies: “We must be ready to provide long-term support to Ukraine.”

When asked about the mood in Russian business in the face of the prospect of a prolonged conflict, Javoronkov answered in a single word: “Pessimistic!”

“Economists recognize that nothing can be expected for the economy if military action continues,” Yavoronkov said. Russia’s economy is now officially in a recession, which he says is only going to get worse.

The country’s industrial companies are facing major problems in replacing Western technology, which led to the fact that the car company AvtoVAZ – maker of the vehicle brand Lada – first ceased production earlier this year and then produced some vehicles without basic electronic functions such as airbags and anti-lock braking systems.

A Ukrainian tank is seen as Ukrainian forces continue fighting on the front lines in Ukraine's Kherson region November 9, 2022.

Problems range from the airline industry to consumer electronics, leading to former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev calling for the nationalization of foreign assets.

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

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

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

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

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

On Monday, via video link, Putin opened a turkey breeding farm in the Tyumen region. The move was hailed as a sign of Russia’s growing economic independence by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who described it as “a significant event in the president’s schedule related to the development of domestic breeding and selection of the meat and poultry sector of the agribusiness.” A crucial sector 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 see her country end the war and rebuild ties with other countries than do it alone.

“I’m waiting and hoping that everything will end because there is nothing more precious than human lives,” she said.

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