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 outside much but still too warm and rainy to enjoy the real Russian winter.
This year, the sense of melancholy is heightened by the sight of shuttered shops in many streets of the capital, as businesses face the economic outage of massive Western sanctions in response to the war in Ukrainewhich Russian officials still refer to as 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 could happen tomorrow or a year from now.”
While shelves in most stores remain well stocked, Western products are becoming scarcer and more expensive, driving up prices that are already plaguing many Russian households.
“Trusted goods are disappearing, starting with toilet paper and Coca-Cola, ending with clothing,” says Lisa.
“Of course you can get used to all this, this is not the worst thing at all,” she said. But she also lashed out at 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 because it affects ordinary people, not those who make decisions,” said Lisa.
Some economists believe Russia will face growing economic hardship and a population increasingly critical of the “special military operation” amid mounting defeats such as in Ukraine’s southern city of Kherson, where a determined Ukrainian offensive has prevented a Russian withdrawal. forced.
Sergey Javoronkov, a senior researcher at the Gaidar Institute of Economic Policy, says the mood is already more critical than it was, thanks to “both the economic price and dissatisfaction with not getting the job done,” contrary to expectations put forward by the Kremlin.
“We should have won. Officials promised to take Kiev 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 a partial mobilization was announced in September – another unpopular measure: those who don’t want to fight are recruited.
“It is a well-known effect: a short victorious war can arouse enthusiasm, but if the war goes on endlessly and does not lead to the desired result, then disappointment comes.”
A 30-year-old PR executive 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 for possible conscription following Putin’s September 21 announcement of nationwide partial mobilization.
The Kremlin says there were more than 300,000 Russians drafted into the army between late September and early November, as 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 bit. Many have left, but many remain. I’m happy with the people who stay and support Russia,” Irina told CNN.
At the same time, she emphasized that she is against the war in Ukraine, because she, like many Russians, is beginning to realize that the fighting could go on for a very long time. This has been especially true since Ukrainian forces managed to recapture the great city of Kherson from the Russian army – an area that Russia annexed in September and which Putin had said would remain part of Russia “forever”.
“I have a negative attitude. I believe that any kind of aggression or war is bad. And to say that if we didn’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.
The 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 defeats on the battlefield have damaged the confidence of many people.
“From a civil society point of view, it is not good for our troops to leave the areas that have become part of the Russian Federation. But we think it’s a tactical move and it won’t last long,” he wrote in response to written questions from CNN online. Puchkov says he believes Russia will fight back fiercely and force Ukraine into a ceasefire.
“The morale of the Russian army is very high,” Puchkov wrote, detailing how he thinks victory will be achieved. “The necessary strategic decisions are known: first and foremost the destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure. The electricity, hot water and heating systems must be destroyed,” he said.
The Kremlin appears to be following that script. Russian forces have repeatedly attacked power infrastructure in Ukraine in recent weeks, leaving more than 7 million people without power after a spate of strikes a week ago, Ukrainian officials said.
However, the Ukrainians remain determined despite the Russian missile attacks and hopes for a negotiated end to the war remain distant, even as America’s top general advocates diplomacy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday called for more support for Ukraine, telling NATO allies: “We must be ready to support Ukraine for the long haul.”
When asked what the mood is like in Russian business given the prospects of a protracted conflict, Javoronkov answered with one word: “Pessimistic!”
“The economic experts realize that nothing is expected for the economy if the military action continues,” Javoronkov said. The Russian economy is now officially in recession, which he says will only get worse.
The country’s industrial companies face major difficulties in replacing Western technology, which led the AvtoVAZ car company – manufacturer of the Lada car brand – to first halt production earlier this year and then proceed to produce some vehicles without basic electronic functions such as airbags and anti-lock braking system. brake systems.
The issues span everything from the aviation 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, ripped into Medvedev’s idea in a rare moment of open criticism.
“What shall we drive, we have nothing to drive. Are we going to drive train cars? Popov yelled 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 are we going to drive, how are we going to call, what are we going to do? Yes, all our technology is Western,” Popov said.
The Kremlin promotes the idea of replacing Western goods with products and technologies from allied countries such as China or Iran, as well as increasing Russia’s own production.
On Monday, Putin opened – via a video link – a turkey farm in the Tyumen region. The move was hailed as a sign of growing Russian economic independence by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who labeled it “an important event in the president’s program regarding the development of domestic breeding and selection of the meat and poultry sector”. of the agricultural industry. A crucial sector directly related to Russia’s food security.”
But Russia’s increasing isolation from the world is not necessarily welcomed by all its citizens. Film producer Lisa said she would rather see her country end the war and renew ties with foreign countries than go it alone.
“I wait and hope it comes to an end because there is nothing more valuable than human lives,” she said.