The Russian People and the War

Article written by: Francisca Pereira
Article translated by: Laura Montebello

More than a year has passed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, beginning on February 24th, 2022 it’s estimated that already hundreds of thousands of Russians have left Russia due to growing instability. Here I take a look at the impact of the war on the Russian people and its consequences.

In Russia there is a “paternalistic” society where nepotism, corruption and a weak rule of law are observed. Political actors are not institutions, but rather knowledge networks that are regulated by a personal exchange of rewards and punishments. Russians, in general, are usually disconnected from politics and doubt their own abilities to understand it.

It’s not easy to say whether the Russian people are in favor of the war or believe in the propaganda disseminated by the Kremlin since the polls carried out in Russia are possibly biased. But not all of society, with different age groups and from different regions, will be affected in the same way by propaganda. The elderly population, and especially those living in less urbanized areas, receive most of their information via television, which the content is practically all controlled by the State. But propaganda is also broadcast through social media and educational institutions. And even those who have access to alternative sources of information may find it difficult to believe them, since they have been exposed to propaganda through different media and the alternative explanations do not match what they think they already know.

Contrary to the predictions of many experts, the sanctions imposed on Russia have not led to an economic collapse. According to polls conducted last fall, many Russians believed they were better off economically than before the war began. The economy contracted by 2.1% in 2022, less than expected and the International Monetary Fund expects positive growth of 0.3% for the year 2023.

The truth is that the Russian economy was already prepared for sanctions before the conflict started and the Russian central bank managed to stabilize the ruble in the first year of the war. At the same time, trade ties with countries such as India, China and Turkey have allowed the flow of products and commodities to be restored. But the main reason for resistance to sanctions is that Russia can sell oil products, which before the war were the main source of income.

However, when two countries go to war, it’s expected that nationals will be more affectionate and satisfied with the respective State, which explains the high level of optimism despite the sanctions. There’s also the possibility that people responding to the polls may not be honest due to their fear of punishment for public criticism, given that tens of thousands have already been arrested for protesting against the war. Furthermore, the Kremlin has ceased to provide public access to economic data.

However according to Vladimir Milov, a former opposition leader and now exiled, the sanctions are indeed working, although there’s propaganda directed at the West to hide their effect. The ruble would only have remained stable due to the difficulty for companies and individuals to raise money and convert it to a foreign currency. The revenues of industries, excluding oil and gas, had fallen by 20% in October 2022 compared to the previous year and by that time 68% of Russians had noticed a reduction in the supply of products in stores.

In less than a week after the start of the invasion, many Western countries had already closed their airspace to Russia while itself had banned flights from 36 countries. These measures had a significant impact on the Russian people and especially on those traveling between the Kaliningrad exclave and mainland Russia, whose most direct flight passed through Lithuanian airspace.

After the beginning of the war many companies expressed the intention to withdraw from the Russian market, however few fulfilled this promise. Some sold stores and factories while the same products continued to be marketed under a different name, as is the case with McDonald’s, which was renamed “Vkusno i tochka” (Tasty and Enough).

Russians who emigrate do it mainly for three reasons: opposition to the authoritarian regime, economic interests or the fact that men are called upon to fight in war. It’s estimated that, in December, 10% of information technology workers left the country, as they were in the process of losing clients.

More than half a million have emigrated since the beginning of the invasion and Russian expat communities around the globe are increasing in number.

The destinations are varied. Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan are close choices that do not require entry visas for Russians. Some emigrate to Finland, the Baltic states or other European countries. Outside of Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Thailand and Argentina are the most chosen destinations.

When an influx of people starts to leave the country, more people know how to handle the exit process and this further leads to an increase in that flow. And it should be noted that as time goes on, these expatriates get used to the country to which they emigrated and that the longer the war lasts, the fewer people will return to Russia.

As for war casualties, a report last month estimates that between 20,000 and 25,000 Russians have been wounded or lost their lives. Factors such as mortality due to covid and emigration make the degrowth of the Russian population in the last 2 years quite pronounced.

In conclusion, the future of the Russian people is estimated to be unstable and conditioned by the uncertain duration of the current conflict. The lack and difficulty of access to reliable data makes it difficult to perceive some phenomena that affects the population; and, finally, the strong wave of emigration from the population that are able to do so, will in the long run, be a negative point for society and the economy.

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