November and December are known as the gloomiest months in Moscow. The days are short and dark, and the weather is too cold and wet to be outdoors much but it’s still warm and rainy to enjoy a real Russian winter.
This year, the gloom was heightened by the sight of shuttered shops on many of the capital’s streets, as businesses grapple with the economic fallout from massive Western sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine, which Russian officials still call a “private military operation.”
“The mood in Moscow and the country now is very gloomy, quiet, fearful and hopeless,” said 34-year-old Lisa, who declined to give her last name and said she was a film producer. “The planning horizon is as low as ever. People have no idea what might happen tomorrow or in a year.”
While shelves in most stores are still well stocked, Western products have become scarce and very expensive, driving up prices that are already hurting many Russian families.
“Familiar goods are disappearing, from toilet paper and Coca-Cola to clothes,” Lisa said.
“Of course, you can get used to all this,” she said, “it’s not the worst thing at all.” But it also dealt a heavy blow to Western governments and companies that left the Russian market in response to the invasion of Ukraine. “I don’t really know how this helps resolve the conflict,” said Lisa, “because it affects ordinary people, not those who make decisions.”
Some economists believe Russia will face increasing economic hardship and its population will slam the “special military operation” amid mounting defeats such as those in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, where a determined Ukrainian offensive has forced Russia’s withdrawal.
Already the mood is more important than it was, thanks to the “economic price and dissatisfaction with the unresolved task,” says Sergey Gavoronkov, senior research fellow at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, in contrast to expectations created by the Kremlin.
“We were supposed to win. The officials promised to capture Kyiv in three days, but, as we can see, it turned out to be stupid.
(Russian President) Vladimir Putin stated in his speech on February 24 that military operations will only be conducted by professional forces. But in September a partial mobilization was announced – also an unpopular measure: those who do not want to fight are being recruited.
“It is a well-known effect: a short victorious war may arouse enthusiasm, but if the war goes on indefinitely and does not lead to the desired result, disappointment sets in.”
A 30-year-old PR manager only gave her name because Irina disagrees, saying she believes the situation is stabilizing after an initial exodus of Russians fleeing not only Western sanctions but also possible conscription after Putin’s Sept. 21 announcement of a partial nationwide mobilization.
The Kremlin says more than 300,000 Russians were drafted into the army between late September and early November, while hundreds of thousands of young Russians have fled the country, often to places like Kazakhstan or Georgia.
“The first wave of panic has already passed, everyone has calmed down a bit. Many have left, but many have remained. I am glad for the people who are staying and supporting Russia,” Irina told CNN.
At the same time, she emphasized that she opposes the war in Ukraine, as it is starting to sink in for her, as it is for many Russians, because the fighting could go on for a very long time. This is particularly the case since Ukrainian forces managed to recapture the key city of Kherson from the Russian military — an area annexed by Russia in September that Putin said would remain part of Russia “forever”.
“I have a negative attitude. I think any aggression or war is evil. Of course, to say that if we don’t attack them, they will attack us is absurd,” said Irina, referring to Putin’s repeated claim that Russia is acting in self-defense in its invasion of Ukraine.
Popular Russian blogger Dmitry Puchkov, who is dubbed “goblin” and supports his country’s military operation in Ukraine, admits that recent defeats on the battlefield have shaken many people’s confidence.
“From the point of view of civil society, it is not good for our troops to leave the territory that has become part of the Russian Federation. But we believe that it is a tactical move and it will not last long,” he wrote, answering written questions from CNN online. Puchkov says he believes Russia will fight back fiercely and force Ukraine to cease fire.
“The morale of the Russian army is very high,” Puchkov wrote, explaining how he believed victory would be achieved. The necessary strategic decisions are well known: first and foremost the destruction of the Ukrainian infrastructure. Electricity, hot water and heating networks must be destroyed.
The Kremlin seems to be following that lead. Russian forces have repeatedly targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in recent weeks, leaving more than 7 million people without power after one wave of strikes a week ago, according to Ukrainian officials.
The Ukrainians remain resolute in the face of Russian missile attacks, however, and hopes for any kind of negotiation to end the war remain remote, even as America’s top general presses for diplomacy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday called for greater support for Ukraine, telling NATO allies: “We must be ready to support Ukraine for the long term.”
When asked about the mood in the Russian business community given the prospects of a protracted conflict, Gavoronkov used one word: “pessimistic!”
Gavoronkov said: “Economists understand that nothing is expected for the economy if military operations continue.” The Russian economy is now officially in recession, which he believes will only get worse.
The country’s industrial firms are having major problems replacing Western technology, prompting automaker AvtoVAZ – maker of the Lada car brand – to first halt production earlier this year and then move to producing some vehicles without basic electronic features such as airbags and anti-lock systems. braking.
The problems involve everything from the aerospace industry to consumer electronics, prompting former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to call for the nationalization of foreign assets.
Yevgeny Popov, a well-known journalist and member of the Russian parliament, stormed into Medvedev’s idea in a rare moment of outspoken criticism.
“What are we going to drive, we have nothing to drive. Are we going to drive railcars?” 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 will we drive, how will we make phone calls, what will we do? Yes, all our technologies are Western, ”said Popov.
The Kremlin has been promoting the idea of replacing Western goods with products and technologies from allied countries like China or Iran, but also of increasing Russian production.
On Monday, Putin opened – via videoconference – a turkey farm in the Tyumen region. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed the move as a sign of Russia’s growing economic independence, describing it as “an important event in the president’s schedule regarding the development of domestic breeding and selection of the meat and poultry sector of the agricultural industry. A vital sector directly linked to Russia’s food security.”
But Russia’s increasing isolation from the world is not necessarily welcome to all of its citizens. Film producer Lisa said she would rather her country end the war and renew relations with foreign countries than go it alone.
“I wait and hope that all this ends because there is nothing more valuable than human life,” she said.