Customers may get mugs and T-shirts honoring Russia’s deployment of soldiers into Ukraine at Moscow’s enormous Izmailovsky outdoor souvenir market, but they commemorate the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The “special military operation” that started six months ago is not mentioned anywhere.
There are few obvious indications that Russia is involved in the worst combat in Europe since World War II in the city. Displays of the letter “Z,” which at first became a symbol of the struggle and was modeled after the emblem painted on Russian military equipment, are very rare.
Only a few sporadic posters with the phrase “Glory to the heroes of Russia” and a soldier’s expressionless visage may be seen on bus shelters. The posters don’t mention the man’s actions or the location of them.
In a nation whose military achievements are intricately knit into the societal fabric, the public’s hesitation or denial over the operation in Ukraine is startling. A smug variation on the idea that Russian military are courteous, photographs of President Vladimir Putin with the tagline “the most polite guy” quickly became popular after the takeover of Crimea. Victory Day, which commemorates the end of Nazi Germany, is eagerly anticipated for weeks.
A Victory Day flag is still visible at a Lamborghini dealership on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, a major boulevard in Moscow, even though the store is dark. Along with hundreds of other international businesses that stopped operating in Russia when Russia launched soldiers into Ukraine, Lamborghini left the country.
The most obvious evidence of the struggle in Moscow is the empty spots in shopping malls where prominent fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and Starbucks had operated. Muscovites who had become used to the gleaming pleasures of consumer culture suffered a psychological blow when the corporations left.
Yegor Driganov, a young guy admiring Moscow City, a collection of dazzling structures that contains four of Europe’s five tallest buildings, said, “At first, we were quite dissatisfied. But shops soon began to sprout to take their place.
Former McDonald’s and Starbucks locations were bought by Russian businessmen, who moved quickly to rebuild with almost identical operations.
The ambiance of the city was described by Driganov’s partner, Polina Polishchuk, as “we go about, go around as normal.”
Although it has become a tenet of official opinion that Russia can develop domestic alternatives to enterprises that have gone, many Russians privately have misgivings.
In a poll conducted by the Levada Center, the only independent pollster in Russia, 81% of Russians said they thought their country would be able to replace imported food operations with domestic ones. However, only 41% said local industries could fully replace imported electronic goods, and only 33% said domestic auto manufacturing could make up for the loss of imports.
Sanctions that cut off the supply of components hit the car sector hard. According to the state statistics department, automobile manufacturing fell almost 97% in May compared to the same month in 2021. Putin has acknowledged that there are supply problems at Russian shipyards as well.
Widespread Western sanctions caused an instant panic in Russia that led to the exodus of international businesses. The ruble, which immediately after the sanctions lost half of its value against the dollar, not only recovered but even surged to heights not seen in years. If it’s good for national pride, it’s a hardship for sectors that depend on exports since their goods become more expensive.
In light of relevant figures, Russia’s economic prospects are far from certain. Contrary to many projections, unemployment is declining. However, the first full quarter of combat saw a significant 4% decline in the GDP, and it is anticipated that the whole economy would shrink by around 8% this year. The annual rate of inflation is estimated to be 15%.
Elvira Nabiullina, the governor of the Central Bank of Russia, issued a warning at the annual showcase event for investors, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum: “I think it’s evident to everyone that it won’t be as it was before.” “If not permanently, external circumstances have altered for a very long time indeed.”
However, even if imminent economic difficulties are clear, they don’t seem to be raising widespread fear.
Mikhail Sukhorukov, a souvenir salesman in Izmailovsky, dismissed worries despite the fact that European bans on air travel to Russia have significantly reduced his major tourist business. He said, “It’s periodic, like a wave, and I opted to remain cheerful rather than go to the graveyard.”
According to Nikolai Petrov, a senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Program, “people in Moscow want to retain their feeling of normal and relative psychological comfort,” which is why the city “leans toward a regular existence.” The people of Russia, for the most part, prefer not to think about it and to go about their daily lives. Russia is now moving at full speed toward a dead end.
The “summer effect,” according to Petrov, is when people in Moscow tend to focus more on creating their own reality than on what is occurring around them, even in their neighboring countries.
A strange success story for Russia’s feeling of independence under sanctions has been the urge to take holidays. Russians have discovered exotic domestic destinations, such as Sakhalin Island, 6,300 kilometers (3,900 miles) from Moscow, where tourism is reportedly up 25%; traffic to Baltic Sea beaches in Kaliningrad has reached all-time daily highs. Industry experts claim that Russian travel to popular Italy has dropped to almost nothing.
However, it is anticipated that Crimean tourism would be around 40% lower than normal.
The channels are flooded with news even if there are little signs of a war on Moscow’s streets. Approximately half of a recent episode of Vesti Nedeli, the premier news magazine program on state television, was dedicated to the Ukraine operation. Long passages portrayed the Kremlin’s military as being very effective and employing the best equipment.
State television is the primary news source for almost 60% of Russians, who may regard it to be untrustworthy. According to a recent Levada poll, 65% of Russians either partially or completely disagree with the information regarding Ukraine they get from official media.
To challenge state TV, there are several (media) sources, according to Driganov, who was lounging by the river.
However, many of those sites can only be accessed using a VPN, or virtual private network. A wide range of international news outlets have been blocked or outlawed in Russia, and Facebook and Twitter usage have also been prohibited.
Even a polling company with a solid reputation like Levada finds it difficult to accurately gauge the opinions of the populace as a whole in a restrictive climate.
Approximately 75% of Russians, according to a Levada survey, support the military intervention, although less than half do so without conditions.
Director of Levada Denis Volkov said that some of the ambiguous individuals may have declared support “just in case, fearing consequences for themselves.”