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Emigration, unemployment and empty shelves in stores: how life in Russia has changed during the 3 months of the war with Ukraine

When Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine, the war seemed far away from Russian territory. Within days, however, the conflict returned home - not with cruise missiles and mortars, but in the form of unprecedented and unexpectedly large volleys of sanctions from Western governments and economic punishments from corporations. Yahoo.

Photo: Shutterstock

Three months after the February 24 invasion, Moscow's vast shopping malls have been transformed into eerie expanses of closed storefronts once occupied by Western retailers.

McDonald's, which opened in Russia in 1990 as a cultural phenomenon, withdrew entirely from Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. IKEA, the embodiment of affordable modern comfort, has suspended operations in the country. Tens of thousands of once secure jobs are now suddenly in question in a very short time.

Major industrial players, including oil giants BP and Shell and automaker Renault, have pulled out despite their huge investments in Russia. Shell estimates it will lose about $5 billion trying to sell its Russian assets.

On the subject: 'This is not my war': Russian officer sent to Ukraine gives candid interview to CNN

You can't fly away

While the multinationals were leaving, thousands of Russians who had the economic means to do so also fled, terrified by the government's harsh actions related to the war, which they saw as a plunge into total totalitarianism. Some young people also fled, fearing that the Kremlin would introduce mandatory conscription to feed its war machine.

But running has become much more difficult than it once was: 27 countries in the European Union, as well as the US and Canada, have banned flights to and from Russia. The Estonian capital of Tallinn, once the perfect weekend getaway (all a 90-minute flight from Moscow), is suddenly at least 12 hours of air travel via Istanbul.

Limited internet

Even alternative travel via the internet and social media has narrowed for Russians. In March, Russia banned Facebook and Instagram — although this can be bypassed with a VPN — and closed access to foreign media websites, including the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. .

Since the Russian authorities passed a law providing for up to 15 years in prison for reporting "fake news" about the war, many major independent media outlets have shut down or suspended their operations in Russia. Among them are the radio station Ekho Moskvy and Novaya Gazeta, whose editor Dmitry Muratov received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.

It is difficult for the Russians, but they have not yet decided who is to blame

The psychological cost of repression, restrictions and disempowerment for ordinary Russians can be high, though difficult to measure. Some opinion polls in Russia show strong support for the war in Ukraine. These results are likely skewed by respondents who are afraid to express their sincere views.

Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote in a commentary that Russian society is now gripped by "aggressive subjugation" and that the degradation of social ties could accelerate.

“The discussion is getting wider and wider. You can call your compatriot a "traitor" and consider him an inferior person simply because he has an opinion different from yours. You can, like the highest-ranking government officials, freely and quite calmly speculate on the prospects of nuclear war. This is something that was certainly never allowed during the Soviet era during Pax Atomica, when both sides understood that the subsequent damage would be completely unthinkable,” he wrote.

“Now this understanding is waning, and this is another sign of the anthropological catastrophe that Russia is facing,” he said.

The economic impact has yet to be fully manifested

In the first days of the war, the Russian ruble lost half its value. But the government's attempts to reinforce it actually pushed its value higher than it was before the invasion.

However, in terms of economic activity, "it's a completely different story," said Chris Weafer, a seasoned Russian economics analyst at Macro-Advisory.

“We are seeing a deterioration in the state of the economy now in a wide range of sectors. Companies are warning they are running out of spare parts. Many companies are moving their employees to part-time jobs, and others are warning they must shut down entirely. Therefore, there are real fears that unemployment will rise in the summer months, that there will be a big drop in consumption, retail sales and investment,” he said.

As a Russian resident working as a nurse (who wished to remain anonymous) told ForumDaily, she was recently told at work that from June 1, 10% of her salary would be “deducted to support the Donetsk region.” Those who tried to express their disagreement with this decision were asked to look for another job.

The relatively strong ruble, however encouraging, also creates problems for the national budget.

“They actually receive foreign currency proceeds from exporters, and payments are made in rubles. So the stronger the ruble, the less money they actually have to spend,” he said. “It also makes Russian exporters less competitive because they are more expensive on the world stage.”

What will happen next

If the war drags on, more companies may leave Russia. Weafer suggested that those companies that had just suspended operations could resume if a ceasefire and peace agreement was reached for Ukraine, but he said the window for that could close.

“If you walk through the shopping centers in Moscow, you can see that many fashion stores, Western business groups, have simply lowered their shutters. Their shelves are still full, the lights are still on. They are just not open. They are waiting to see what happens next,” he explained.

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According to Weafer, these companies will soon have to deal with the problems that their Russian business finds itself in.

“Now we are getting to the point where companies are running out of time or maybe patience,” he said.

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