MOSCOW (AFP) – At Moscow’s sprawling Izmailovsky souvenir market, shoppers can find mugs and T-shirts commemorating the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine – but since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, nothing about the “special military operation” that It started six months ago.
All over the capitalThere is little overt evidence that Russia is engaged in the worst fighting in Europe since World War II. Screens of the letter “Z” – which initially spread as a symbol of combat, repeating the insignia painted on Russian military vehicles, are rarely seen.
There are only a few posters scattered on bus shelters, showing the unsentimental face of one soldier or another and the words, “Glory to the heroes of Russia.” The posters do not indicate what the man did or where he did it.
Public opinion’s reticence, or denial, about the operation in Ukraine is striking in a country where military exploits are deeply woven into the social fabric. The annexation of Crimea produced almost instant images, especially those of President Vladimir Putin who described him as “the most polite person”. An arrogant variant in describing the Russian forces as polite. Victory Day, which marks the defeat of Nazi Germany, is celebrated with apprehension with weeks of anticipation.
A Lamborghini dealership on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, a main street in Moscow, still displays the D-Day sign, even though the showroom is dark. Lamborghini has pulled out of Russia, along with hundreds of other foreign companies that have suspended or terminated operations After Russia sent its troops to Ukraine.
Dark storefronts and deserted spaces in malls that once housed popular fast food outlets like McDonald’s and Starbucks It is the most visible sign of the conflict in Moscow. leaving companies It was a psychological blow to Muscovites accustomed to the shiny comforts of consumer culture.
“At first, we were very disappointed,” said Igor Dreganov, a young man enjoying the view along the riverbank opposite Moscow, a cluster of gleaming towers that housed four of Europe’s five tallest buildings. “But stores are starting to appear to take their place.”
Former McDonald’s Russian entrepreneurs acquired Starbucks outlets and quickly moved on to reopening with nearly carbon copies.
Describing the mood of the city, Dreganov’s companion, Polina Bolchuk, said: “We are walking around and walking around as usual.”
Although the belief that Russia could create domestic alternatives to the companies it left has become a dogma of faith among officials, many Russians have their own skepticism.
A survey conducted by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent pollster, showed that 81% of Russians believe the country will be able to replace foreign food operations with domestic alternatives, while only 41% believe that domestic industries can completely replace electronic goods and only a third believe that production Domestic cars can offset the loss of imports.
The auto industry has come under fire for sanctions that have dried up the supply of parts. The state statistics service said that car production in May was down 97% compared to the same month in 2021. Putin recently admitted that Russian shipyards are also suffering from a shortage of supplies.
The panic engulfing Russia in the wake of extensive Western sanctions and the abandonment of foreign companies has subsided. The ruble, which lost half its value against the dollar immediately after the sanctions, not only rebounded, but rose to levels not seen in years. But if it is good for national dignity, it is a burden on export dependent industries whose products are becoming more expensive.
Russia’s economic prospects Far from being clear amid comprehensive statistics. The unemployment rate fell, contrary to many expectations. But GDP fell sharply by 4% in the second quarter of the year – the first full fighting period – and is expected to shrink by about 8% for the full year. Inflation is calculated at 15% for the year.
“It seems to me that it is clear to everyone that it will not be the same as before,” Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Russian Central Bank, warned the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual gathering aimed at investors. “External conditions have changed for a long time already, if not forever.”
But if the impending economic problems are obvious, they do not seem to cause widespread concern.
Mikhail Sukhorukov, a seller of souvenirs from Izmailovsky, shrugged off concerns, even though European sanctions on air travel to Russia had cut off much of the tourist trade that was important to him. “It’s cyclical, like a wave,” he said, adding that he chose to be optimistic rather than “go to the cemetery.”
“Moscow is living its normal life because people are trying to maintain their sense of normal and relative psychological well-being,” said Nikolai Petrov, senior researcher in the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House. “Russia is heading in full force towards a dead end, and people, in general, prefer not to think about it and live their lives.”
Petrov also suggested that Muscovites are in the midst of a “summer effect … when a person does not often watch what is happening in the world, even in a neighboring country, but builds his own reality with family, vacation and so on.”
The desire for vacations was a strange success story of Russia’s feeling of self-sufficiency in the age of sanctions. Easy air connections to Western Europe have been denied – industry experts say Russian travel to popular Italy has fallen to almost nothing – Russians have found exotic local destinations, such as Sakhalin Island, 6,300 kilometers (3,900 miles) from Moscow, where tourism is said to have risen by 25%; Traffic on the shores of the Baltic Sea in Kaliningrad has reached its daily high.
However, tourism to Crimea is expected to be 40% less than usual.
Although the streets of Moscow show little sign of a conflict, the airwaves are full of news. The leading news magazine program on state television, Vesti Ndeli, recently devoted nearly an hour – about half its running time – to Operation Ukraine. Long sectors described the Kremlin’s army as highly effective, using advanced weapons.
About 60% of Russians rely on state television as their main news source, but they may find it unreliable. A Levada poll this month found that 65% of Russians do not believe some or all of what they see in state media about Ukraine.
“There are a lot of (media) sources” to confront state television, said Dreganov, relaxing along the river.
However, many of these sources can only be accessed through a VPN or a VPN. Russia banned or banned a range of foreign media outlets, and bullied critical domestic media outlets to shut them down and banned the use of Facebook and Twitter.
In an oppressive environment, it is uncertain to assess the opinions of the population as a whole, even by an internationally respected exploratory body like Levada.
Polls in Levada found that about 75% of Russians support the military operation, but less than half of them unconditionally support it.
Some of the dodgers may have expressed their support “just in case they fear the repercussions for themselves”. Livada director Denis Volkov said.
Associated Press contributing writer Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia.