Russia is fighting on two fronts at once. In one it is the attacker as an invader of Ukraine, what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation for the liberation of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics”; and in another he presents himself as a victim of what he calls an “economic war” waged by the West against the very existence of the country. Both scenarios are interconnected: the last days of the “first stage” of Vladimir Putin’s offensive in Ukraine have taken their toll on Moscow. The flight of tens of thousands of professionals from the country, the verification in supermarkets of the vertiginous increase in prices after the sanctions against Moscow, a first worrying figure of unemployment and a growing social rejection of the invasion represent some of these costs. These are signs of a crisis that also influences the guidelines of the Russian delegation that is negotiating an end to the conflict with kyiv, whose main objective has now become “protect” the Donbas region in the east, already partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists. .
“Some 59,000 people have been declared free, 10% more than on March 1.” The Deputy Minister of Labor, Elena Mujtiyarova, was not referring to any population in Ukraine, but to the Russians who have been left unemployed in the first weeks of the conflict. A euphemism that contrasts with the rhetoric of the Kremlin and its environment when talking about Western sanctions. “They seize the assets of financial institutions and the central bank. There is talk of its nationalization. This is a war without rules and its consequence will be the destruction of the entire world economic structure,” former President Dmitry Medvedev criticized in an interview with various state channels.
“Economic war” is a term used before by Putin himself and his spokesman, Dmitri Peskov. The disconnection of Russian banking from the financial system and the suspension of business with the country are beginning to take a toll on its industry, which is seriously threatened by lack of supplies, according to its central bank. And this is not only the responsibility of the West: Chinese companies have also raised the prices of their products and the Asian partner no longer exports parts for key sectors such as aeronautics. For example, one of the most popular airlines in Russia, Pobeda, has announced through a statement that it will reduce its fleet from 45 to 21 B737 aircraft “to cover the need for spare parts in the future” and guarantee the safety of its flights ” until lost supply chains are restored.”
Softening the economic punishment will be decisive in the negotiations that the Ukrainian and Russian delegations hold almost daily by videoconference. “This madness of sanctions, which looks like a full-fledged, large-scale and unprecedented economic war against Russia, is one of the key issues of the negotiation,” the head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinski, said on March 16. .
Putin launched the offensive alleging that he intended to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine, in addition to suggesting in the first days that the rival army stage a coup to negotiate with a government more akin to the Kremlin. A month later, the Russian delegation emphasizes that the basic demands are to achieve a neutral status for Ukraine and to recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the independence of Donbas.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
In parallel, the growing industrial paralysis threatens with layoffs and a general impoverishment of the population. According to the Ministry of Labor, “the situation is stable” now because there are 660,000 citizens registered with the national employment services, while the job bank has more than 1.6 million vacancies. The statistics agency Rostat estimated in February an unemployment rate of 4.4% of the active population.
However, the question is what jobs will there be and whether there will be a brain drain in the face of Russian political tension and the devaluation of wages in rubles. The technology committee of the State Duma held a meeting on March 22 in which the director of the Russian Telecommunications Association, Sergei Plugotarenko, warned that between 50,000 and 70,000 computer scientists had left the country in the first month of the war. but the worst is yet to come. “The second wave has been slowed down only by the high cost of air tickets, problems with money transactions and that nobody expected the Russians,” he said after predicting that some 100,000 more programmers will leave in April.
The images of shortages in supermarkets are not different from those seen in Spain with the truckers’ strike. Until now, the absence of some basic products, such as sugar, has had more to do with the panic of hoarding than with the real shortage. Likewise, the banks had problems in the first days of disconnection to migrate their clients to the new cards with the Mir system, a Russian alternative to Visa and Mastercard, due to the lack of plastic to cover this massive demand. However, this problem was resolved shortly after.
A huge problem is the revision of prices. The average Russian salary was 54,687 rubles in September last year, according to the Rostat statistics agency. About 490 euros at the exchange rate now and 640 at the time, a few months before the Russian deployment began along the border with Ukraine prior to the invasion last February.
Many multinationals have suspended the sale of their products until the value of the Russian currency stabilizes, especially clothing and technology chains. Other items are still for sale, but their prices have skyrocketed. Unilever and Nestlé, for example, have announced this week that they will raise their prices between 10% and 45%. Previously, Procter & Gamble made its items more expensive on average by 44%, although it raised the cost of several of its brands by up to 99%, such as its Russian Mif detergent. To give other examples, bottles of deodorant and bath gel of common brands are now worth between 500 and 850 rubles, up to 7.5 euros in exchange, or more than 2% of the monthly salary.
On March 18, the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin took a mass bath in a stadium, and five days later the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VtsIOM), dependent on the Government, published that 74% of Russians support the “special operation”, although only 17% thought it was to “protect Donbas”.
“It strikes me that people say that the Russians support the war in opinion polls. We just commissioned a survey of 31,000 calls; at 29,400 they hung up the phone on us. It is impossible to do sociology during a military mobilization, people are afraid,” Maksim Katz, a Yábloko party politician and director of the City Projects fund, wrote on Twitter.
So far there have been no mass protests due to the repression. More than 15,100 people have been detained since the conflict began, according to the portal specialized in demonstrations OVD-Info, and the Government approved a law that punishes with up to 15 years in prison to spread what the Kremlin considers disinformation about the war or “discredit the armed forces”. Dozens of people are being tried for these charges, such as Marina Ovsianikova, the journalist who showed a poster live on television to protest the war; while many others have decided to leave the country because of their opposition to the invasion, such as Anatoli Chubais, a high-ranking Putin official and architect of the privatizations of the 1990s.
Meanwhile, the Russian Army offers its casualty figures with a dropper. This Friday he reported for the second time the victims he has suffered among his ranks, 1,351 dead and 3,825 injured, although Ukrainian and Western sources multiply these figures several times.
“Some are surprised that there is not yet a large-scale anti-war movement,” Katz added on Twitter. The politician then showed a graph of US support for his war in Vietnam (1964-1971) and recalled that there was no internet back then. “I would change the years for months,” he said after stressing that US opposition to the war exceeded the support of its defenders in the second year of the conflict, when after the so-called Tet offensive it was impossible to hide US casualties from public opinion.
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limits