Russians grow more critical as Putin’s military operation drags on and sanctions take


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

This year, the feeling of melancholy is increased by the sight of shuttered shops on many of the capital’s streets, as businesses face the economic fall-out from massive Western sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine, which Russian officials still call the “special military operation.”

“The mood in Moscow and the country is now extremely gloomy, quiet, intimidated, 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 the shelves in most stores remain well stocked, Western products are becoming increasingly scarce and very expensive, further driving prices that are already hammering many Russian households.

“Familiar goods disappear, starting from toilet paper and Coca-Cola, ending with clothes,” said Lisa.

“Of course, you can get used to all this, this is not the worst thing at all,” she said. But she also took a jab at Western governments and companies that have left the Russian market in response to the invasion of Ukraine. “I do not really know how this helps in resolving the conflict, because it affects ordinary people, not those who make decisions,” Lisa said.

A woman pushing her trolley with purchases looks at the window of an empty shop in a mall, November 18, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.

Some economists believe Russia will face growing economic hardship and a population that will grow increasingly critical of the “special military operation” amid mounting defeats such as seen in Ukraine’s southern city of Kherson, where a determined Ukrainian offensive forced a Russian withdrawal.

Sergey Javoronkov, a senior researcher at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, says the mood is already more critical than it was, thanks to “both the economic price and the dissatisfaction with the task not being solved,” contrary to the expectations created by the Kremlin.

“We were supposed to win. Officials promised to capture Kyiv in three days but, as we see, it turned out to be foolish,” he told CNN.

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

“It is a known effect: a short victorious war may provoke enthusiasm, but if the war lasts endlessly and does not lead to the desired outcome, then comes disappointment.”

A 30-year-old PR manager who gave her name only as Irina disagrees, saying she believes the situation is stabilizing after an initial exodus of Russians fleeing not only Western sanctions but also possible conscription following Putin’s September 21 announcement of a nationwide partial mobilization.

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

“The first wave of panic has already passed, everyone has calmed down a little. Many have left, but many remain. I am pleased with the people who stay and support Russia,” Irina told CNN.

At the same time, she emphasized that she is opposed to the war in Ukraine, as it is beginning to sink in for her, as for many Russians, that the fighting may go on for a very long time. This is especially the case since Ukraine’s forces managed to take back the major city of Kherson from the Russian military – an area Russia had annexed in September and which Putin had said would remain part of Russia “forever.”

“I have a negative attitude. I believe that any aggression or war are evil. And to say that if we wouldn’t attack them, they would attack us is of course absurd,” Irina said, referring to Putin’s repeated claim that Russia is acting in self-defense in its invasion of Ukraine.

Well-known Russian blogger Dmitry Puchkov, who goes by the name “Goblin” and supports his country’s military operation in Ukraine, acknowledges that the recent battlefield defeats have shaken many people’s trust.

“From the point of view of civil society, it is not good for our troops to leave the territories that have become part of the Russian Federation. But we think it’s a tactical move and it won’t last long,” he wrote, answering written questions from CNN…

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