This is how Anna Colin Lebedev, a scholar of post-Soviet societies at the University of Paris-Nanterre, accurately describes in an interview with Le Monde the numerous fractures that characterize the Russian population
as a result of the sanctions imposed in response to the invasion of the Ukraine, according to various estimates, Russia is expected to plunge into a recession of 7% to 15% of gross domestic product by 2022. Over the past eight years, the country has certainly strengthened its economic and industrial autonomy. However, the crisis caused by these measures will not be experienced in the same way by the different categories of the Russian population, which is divided in many ways, explains to Le Monde, Anna Colin Lebedev, an expert in post-Soviet societies and professor of political science at the University of Paris-Nanterre.
Since 2014 and the annexation of Crimea, Russia has strengthened its independence to be able to stand up for itself in the face of the new sanctions. To what extent can it do so
Rich people close to the government have long been prepared to evade possible individual sanctions by using front companies and various financial arrangements. This is common practice in Russia.
From an economic point of view, the country had also prepared itself. However, he had not imagined that sanctions would be imposed on such a scale. True, he has developed an alternative to the Western Swift financial network, from which some of his banks were excluded after the invasion of Ukraine. But the freezing of the reserves of the Central Bank of Russia held abroad was not foreseen. Nor that so many Western companies have chosen to withdraw from the country due to the risk to their reputation.
Russia is a rent economy. Apart from hydrocarbons, some raw materials and armaments, it produces very little. And what it produces depends heavily on components and materials imported from abroad. In this sense, the country has failed to strengthen its autonomy, which was a key project in 2014. What are the elements of Russian society that allow us to understand how these sanctions are experienced by the population
Russian society is much more heterogeneous than what you can imagine from a Western European perspective. The gap between a Russian with a modest income and a Russian with a middle income is abysmal, not comparable to what we see in Europe. There is a century-long development gap between Moscow and the countryside.
Economist Natalia Zoubarevitch, of the Moscow State University, speaks of a geo-economic gap, which covers both income differences and geographic location, that is, the greater or lesser distance from large cities. This draws three Russias: that of the wealthiest (excluding the oligarchs and the ultra-rich) who live in large cities and especially in the capital, that of medium-sized cities, in economic decline after the de-industrialization of the USSR, and that of the rural or semi-urban areas, which are very underdeveloped.
The first Russia is educated, open to the world and dependent on Western economies. He is the first to suffer economic sanctions and the consequences of the war. He has already lost a lot and will lose a lot more. And the other two Russias
At the other extreme, the poorest people live in rural areas or small towns, where small employees and civil servants are over-represented, as are peasants. Their incomes depend heavily on what the state pays. These Russians live in great poverty, travel little and do not consume Western products: they are already in a survival economy. They will be affected by economic difficulties in a second phase, and first of all by inflation, which is already high, even if the state tries to freeze the prices of commodities. Between these families and the wealthy ones of the big cities, the “middle Russia”, that of the medium-sized cities, is in an intermediate situation. How the rich Russians of the big cities experienced the departure of Western companies
It is a very strong symbol, seen as a sign of closure of the country. We must remember that, in the late 1980s, the closure of the USSR was one of the strongest criticisms directed at the regime, which undoubtedly precipitated its fall, at a time when the desire to travel and discover the rest of the world was stronger and stronger. Today, international openness is important for the rich. Many send their children to study in Europe or the United States; many keep one foot outside Russia by owning property overseas. This means that, faced with the prospect of closure, they could challenge the government
Russians of this class are very attached to the economic benefits they get from Vladimir Putin’s regime. This opportunity to enrich and consume is central. It puts everything else in the background. It justifies patriotic speeches of clear approval. The most critical individuals, on the other hand, will stay away from politics and focus on personal and family interests. How they will react to the deterioration of the economic situation
Some will adopt psychological protection mechanisms: blame the West for impoverishment and justify their support for the government. Others will perhaps try to take advantage of the situation – we will only be able to see this in retrospect – for example by opening a fake Ikea to compensate for the closure of the official Ikea or by getting their hands on Western assets if there are forms of expropriation.
It seems to me, however, that this phenomenon will remain limited in scope, precisely because Russia has failed to strengthen its industrial self-sufficiency: massively imported capital and consumer goods will soon be in short supply. It will therefore be difficult to manage a fake Ikea or other business if there are shortages. We add that it is also in this category of population, more informed and politicized, that one observes the greatest number of strategies of exile and protest. What does this mean
It is difficult to estimate. Economist Konstantin Sonin [from the University of Chicago, ed] speaks of at least 200,000 people who left Russia in the first weeks of the war [which began on February 24]. IT professionals say at least 50,000 IT workers left the country in March and up to 100,000 are planning to leave in April. However, again, we are talking about Russians in large cities with economic resources. Two thirds of Russians do not have a passport that allows them to travel internationally.
Members of the intellectual professions or sectors of new technologies are also those who have the most information resources. Within the country, these groups make up the bulk of the protest circles.
Many Russians will also likely slip into passive resistance: they will not openly oppose the state but, for example, will carry out a slight sabotage of its orders, contribute to the malfunctioning of institutions, or will not show zeal in their duties. You say that in the face of crises, the Russians are always preparing for the worst. When the economy collapses and the repression escalates they sit down and close their eyes to get on with their lives. This is their state of mind today and, therefore, how long they can withstand in the face of war and hyperinflation
This is especially true for Russians in medium-sized cities and rural areas. In this country, crises are not the exception, they are the rule. When the ruble plummeted in the early 1990s, families lost all their Soviet-era savings. In the 1998 crisis, they lost their savings again. Preparing for the next crisis is part of the normal Russian life strategy.
This explains the hyper-consumer behavior, luxury and big cars, sometimes observed in Moscow and considered shocking by a Western eye. But consuming immediately is more rational than saving when you risk losing everything overnight. “We will be impoverished, but in the end we will make it”: this type of reasoning is reassuring. Faced with the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, this will probably be true in the short term, but I am more doubtful about the medium term. Because that’s how it is
For many years, Putin’s consensus for power has been based on the regime’s promise of stability and prosperity. But both are now compromised by the isolation and the war economy that is about to be introduced, which absorbs all resources. Consequently, the level of acceptance can only be maintained if the Russian leadership faces a tangible threat that justifies the sacrifices. This is why some have said military escalation remains a likely strategy for the Kremlin. If the richest Russians are hit hardest by the economic crisis, the poorest will pay a high price in terms of human lives …
Yes, because the soldiers sent to the front come from poor or modest Russia. For these families, resistance manifests itself in the multiplication of strategies to prevent young people from serving in the military, for example by alleging an illness or a particular family situation. These avoidance strategies are already massive.
In villages, where citizens are most deprived of the means to protect their children, we will soon see the return of the bodies. If they are numerous, what reactions they trigger
Will there be a strong resentment towards the authorities or there will be more hatred towards the Ukrainians and an even stronger mobilization for war
. It is very difficult to establish. What is the attitude of Russian small businesses towards the state
To continue their activities, entrepreneurs have no choice but to submit to the imperatives of the state, but also to the corruption organized by the state. Even in small locations, they cannot escape the pressure of power. If the local government decides that an SME must finance the renovation of a sports field near its headquarters, or share its profits with a corrupt official, it is forced to do so if it does not want to close. At the start of the war, Putin summoned representatives of big business to invite them to contribute to the war effort. They really don’t have any other options. Russia is now seeking economic support from China. The Russian population and businessmen see this positively
Apart from the priorities declared by the government, the Russian company knows little about China. The population does not have a clear picture of China. It is not perceived as a neighboring people. Middle Kingdom specialists are quite rare in Moscow. Furthermore, Russia sometimes displays a certain xenophobia towards foreigners who are physically different. Chinese students are regularly subjected to xenophobic attacks. On the Ukrainian side, we were surprised by the way the state functions despite the war and organizes itself to help the population and maintain the economy. Because that’s how it is
The country’s observers were not surprised by the strong mobilization of Ukrainian society and its resistance. On the other hand, we were surprised by the permanence of state services and economic actors. That of institutions and that of personnel, such as telecommunications operators mobilized to maintain telephone connections, electricians, town halls, hospital staff …
This maintenance of public services is much stronger than what was observed in 2014, when Ukrainian state was not far from bankruptcy. This near-bankruptcy also explains why some local administrations quickly succumbed to the separatists: they were not ready to defend the central state, seen as weak and corrupt.
Since then, the state has grown stronger. Corruption has not been defeated, but the permanent message of the fight against corruption is heard. This explains why many entrepreneurs have chosen to stay in the country and support the war effort. They stay because they have something to defend. They believe in their country, but today they also believe in the Ukrainian state. Almost a quarter of Ukrainians have moved within the country or abroad. What is the future of Ukraine in the face of such a demographic upheaval
Ukraine was already a country of high emigration since independence. Many have gone to work mainly in Poland, or in Italy, in the personal services sector. The starting nets already existed, and the diasporas are present in several countries.
Many of the women and children who left on February 24 will return, as their families will want to be reunited. Although some remain in host countries, the Ukrainians of the diaspora have never lost the connection with their country, especially by sending money. After the conflict, they will play a very important role in the reconstruction of the country.
(Extract from the foreign press review by eprcomunicazione)

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