This is the typical portrait of this new Russian middle class which, working in the private sector, traveling abroad and criticizing for a long time the authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, finds itself sanctioned… by Westerners. “Quite a paradox! », Plague Anna, a dynamic thirties seated at a cafe in Moscow.
→ ANALYSIS. War in Ukraine: the noose of sanctions tightens around the Russian economy
As Russian tanks advanced into Ukraine, American and European measures kept piling up. General on the economy or individual on relatives of the Kremlin, they did not however stop what Moscow, in an understatement, calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine. “And they have in no way undermined popular support for the Kremlin! On the contrary… “, sorry Anna.
“Purify relations with the West”
Around her, the undecided have become supporters of the operation. “Not that they want a war. But, for them, it helps to purify relations with the West. The sanctions proved that the West was waiting for an opportunity to punish Russia. As a result, many have become radicalized in their support for the Kremlin, she observes. An illusion, of course, which propaganda plays on! But it’s a fact: your sanctions have been counterproductive and boosted the popularity of the Kremlin. »
→ TO UNDERSTAND. War in Ukraine: what is the strategic objective of economic sanctions against Russia?
Cool head, Anna knows how to sort out but the sanctions have indeed affected her. A group of users, for example, is suing Netflix for 6 million euros for refusing to provide services. But in the end, neither the most privileged, who travel the world, nor the poorest, who do not have a foreign passport and are cut off from the world economy, are affected. “But the sanctions are hitting people like us, affected by banking measures that block our transfers and air restrictions that prevent us from traveling west,” complains Anna, used to going back and forth in Europe, Visa card in her pocket.
“Hit where it hurts”
“Putin and his whole corrupt regime have lost their minds. Westerners had no choice but to hit the economy as this will eventually weaken the system. In the meantime, it affects us. If that’s the price to pay…” hopes Barbara, a mother in a wealthy Moscow home. With a drop of more than 10% in GDP, Russia is at risk of its worst recession since 1994, warned former finance minister Alexei Kudrin.
→ REPORT. “It won’t be 1991. It will be closer to 1917…”: Russians reeling from soaring prices
“Aeronautics is affected with, within six months, planes de facto grounded. Many IT specialists prefer to leave the country. At over 15%, inflation is at record highs. A large part of the country’s financial reserves is blocked. The country is partially excluded from the Swift interbank system”, lists a senior European diplomat in Moscow. “The objective is to increase the cost of the war for the economy as much as possible and, by extension, to weaken the Kremlin politically”, he explains. “The isolation is gradual. You have to hit where it hurts. Russian power only understands the balance of power,” add another.
“The international effort to cut Russia off from the global economic and financial system will have a dramatic impact on the Russian economy. But also on the global economy as a whole,” warns expert Sergey Efremov. An argument used by the Russian authorities: with these sanctions, Europeans are hurting themselves as much as Russia. To divert attention from economic misdeeds, they multiply the discourse of diversion. With a usual technique: return the arguments. For example, the threat to sanction gas would affect consumers, Russian televisions making fun of “speeches calling on Europeans to take cold showers to punish Putin”. They remind us that Europe is dependent on Russia, for its gas but also its rare metals at the heart of new technologies, particularly in renewables.
“The Russians are more united than ever behind their leader”
Paying for gas in rubles has already boosted demand for the Russian currency which, after plunging for a month, has recovered thanks to Westerners. Since then, the insolent strength of the ruble has been used by the Kremlin to prove to its public opinion that the country is resisting sanctions and pressure from the West. The televisions succeeded in presenting them not as measures linked to the intervention in Ukraine, but as instruments of the West to attack Russia.
“All this proves that the West has always hated us. Putin is right! », launches among others Nikolai, retired more than ever a supporter of the head of the Kremlin. “There is no point in pressuring Russia. Napoleon and Hitler failed. You won’t make it either.” he exclaims. “You make the same mistake again and again: sanctioning us is futile. It only strengthens us, ironically behind the scenes of power one of the many responsible for social projects and communication of the presidency. Westerners do the work for us! They succeeded in boosting the solidarity of the Russians who, in the face of the sanctions, are more united than ever behind their leader. »
Russophobia staged in the media
So the officials pretend to defy the sanctions. In appearance at least, Vladimir Putin emerges strengthened, with confidence rates exceeding 80%. For the moment, the economic measures are proving to be all the more counter-productive on the political atmosphere as they have been combined with broader measures aimed at sports and culture. “These sanctions are unjust and senseless! Why ban our disabled athletes? Why deprive our little champions of international ice rinks? Why deprogram Tchaikovsky from your concerts? », gets carried away Igor, a musician accustomed until then to the rounds in Europe.
These cases are used on television to stage a Russophobia presented as growing in the West. Latest example: the concert in Sweden of a famous orchestra of Russian instruments, which the group intended to give in support of Ukraine, was canceled under pressure from certain citizens “not wanting to see balalaikas on stage”. A real buzz on Russian social networks to mobilize public opinion against sanctions.