Just three weeks ago, despite Russia’s steady return to authoritarianism, people, especially in major cities, were still closely intertwined with the outside world. They bought Swedish furniture, went on package trips to Turkey and shared clips on TikTok. In one fell swoop, Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has turned their lives and prospects upside down. Whatever the outcome of the war, the Russians now face potentially years of isolation, economic struggles and a crackdown on freedom of speech that are reminiscent of Soviet times. Three decades of erratic progress toward a “normal life” have been thrown in the opposite direction.
Sanctions imposed so far could devastate the economy, although that will depend in part on what happens in Ukraine and whether they are reversed after a ceasefire. Some will burn slowly. Although half of Russia’s $643 billion foreign reserves have been frozen, swift central bank action — doubling interest rates and limiting foreign currency withdrawals — has prevented bank runs.
Still, the ruble has fallen by 30 percent, fueling inflation. Imports will fall due to foreign exchange shortages and withdrawals by foreign companies. Statistics from Yale University suggest that more than 400 international companies have withdrawn from Russia, suspended or scaled down operations. Shortages of some goods and medicines are reported.
Formal embargoes on energy exports are still limited, but pressure to do more is mounting. Russia itself has banned the export of 200 products, including telecommunications goods, agricultural machinery and equipment, fertilizers, cars and planes until the end of the year – ostensibly in retaliation for sanctions, but also to boost domestic supplies. Consensus forecasts show that the Russian economy will contract by 7.9 percent this year; some forecasters predict as much as 15 percent.
If long-term sanctions continue, foreign investment and technology flows will be largely held back. Either way, Western countries are finally determined to phase out Russian oil and gas imports, the lifeblood of their economies. Airspace closures and bans in western parts are beginning to ground his planes.
The Russians’ lives are also changing, in more insidious ways. As the Kremlin tries to control an entirely deceptive war story, the last remaining independent media outlets have been shut down. A law has introduced sentences of up to 15 years for spreading “false” information about the military. Teachers are fired for refusing to teach the Kremlin’s version of events.
In a poison-dripping speech this week, Putin said his country needed to “cleanse itself” by distinguishing “true patriots from scum and traitors”. Some officials use the language of ‘cleansing’. The “Z” originally used to distinguish Russian vehicles in Ukraine appears on clothing, walls and posters as a symbol of support for the war and the Putin regime. In displays with fascist undertones, young people are filmed in Z formations. Some social media critics have called the stylized symbol a “zwastika.”
Older Russians will shudder at the echoes of some of the darkest days of the 20th century, but few of them will leave. However, some young people and professionals do; a Russian economist estimates that at least 200,000 Russians left the country in the first ten days of the war.
An accelerating brain drain will rob Russia of some of its best human talents, just as sanctions put a strain on the funding and know-how it needs. None of this compares to the human and physical destruction that Putin’s forces endured in Ukraine. However, the longer it goes on, the clearer it becomes that the president’s war is also a disaster for his own people.
This post Putin’s war is also a tragedy for the Russian people was original published at “https://www.ft.com/content/cfcf0615-49c8-4d5a-a10b-ced9e1892da8”