Over the past couple of days I’ve been canvassing relatives (in law) and numerous friends in Russia on their opinion of the invasion and local impact. Whilst the results of my enquiries are really no more than a straw poll, they do provide some interesting insights. In summary, approximately 75% of the sample (35 people in total) do not support the invasion with a matching opinion that nobody can threaten Russia.
The common expression was that if the US/NATO, or anyone else, dared to set one foot into Russian territory, the response would be withering and all Russians would willingly commit everything to fighting an invader. This is a fervent belief so the follow-on is that attacking Ukraine was pointless and will come at a mammoth cost that will weaken the nation.
But, and this is fascinating, under no circumstances will the Crimea ever be returned to Ukrainian control. Withdrawal from the Donbas region was negotiable. Other notable remarks were:
1st. Nobody thought Russian troops would actually invade. Everyone believed that Russia would maintain an aggressive posture on its own side of the border, and in Belarus.
2nd. Those in the large cities (Moscow; St Petersburg) are furious with Putin believing that Russia will pay a monstrous price in the loss of Russian soldier’s lives, the cost of sanctions and other impacts to the economy/lifestyle and an undeserved fall in the international reputation of every Russian.
3rd. Those in regional towns are split between supporting the invasion (Ukraine is Russian!) and mirroring the opinion of those in the big cities. Those supporting the invasion acknowledge the national price will be high but believe that price is worth paying to regain the Ukraine and create a permanent land safeguard against US/NATO/EU belligerence.
4th. Those who do not support the invasion and have money are now wanting to leave Russia permanently. However, some countries are not processing visas (of any description) for the average Russian. One individual has already tried the embassies of France, Canada and the USA and was told to come back “in a month or two”. The embassies wouldn’t even discuss potential emigration for himself and his family. (He asked me whether Australia was a possibility).
5th. Local news report that passport applications have reached unprecedented levels and the processing period has blown out to ‘many’ weeks (from the usual two weeks) and that a formal interview with a passport officer is now required (no interview previously) slowing the process still further.
6th. International firms have already begun closing stores and factories of international businesses have begun the wind-down process. One friend who is a very senior executive with a major international company has been told he will be stood down in April along with about twelve hundred Russian employees. He has also been told there is no comparable position available in the company’s other global locations and the company’s financial support for the executive’s luxury apartment, car (and driver) will also cease in April.
7th. Russian banks will convert inbound foreign currency (cash) but sending money inbound via international transfer is now (near) impossible as most (all) money transfer services have suspended their services into Russia. Sending foreign currency out of Russia electronically is hopeless although some report foreign currency cash is available at a minimum 30% discount to the official rate. Of course, this is a further issue for those wishing to leave the country. The ruble (as cash) is effectively worthless outside Russia. Domestic banking appears unaffected at this time. Those who can are buying physical gold (at inflated prices) whilst others are looking into cryptocurrency.
8th. Prices at market stores have not risen significantly although some isolated increases have been noted (possible profiteering). There doesn’t seem to be any noticeable impact on imported foods at this time however everybody is certain that shortages and significant price increases are imminent.
9th. Those in the building industry are very concerned about their being able to complete projects due to the likely inability to import materials/accessories or subsequently remit payment to international suppliers (or pay in advance).
10th. Everyone is stunned at the ‘pile-on’ by international entities (including sports) who are rushing to exit Russia and/or, cancelling events/banning Russian athletes. This is considered grossly unfair. (A handful of my contacts did think Russians will be better off without McDonalds).
11th. A number of domestic flights have been cancelled and movement around the country, by air, is challenging. One associate needed to travel from northern to southern Russia and this required a flight to Moscow, then an international flight to Kazakhstan (!), then a flight to the destination city in southern Russia. Approximately 36 hours of total travel for what previously had been a five or six hour direct journey. Travel by domestic train service would have taken over three days.
12th. Other international flights are still available, but fewer. A number of international airlines have cancelled services to Moscow and this is having a corresponding impact on outbound passenger seats. Ticket prices have increased.
Although only a miniscule sample of people in a huge country, it was notable that while most Russians usually display resigned acceptance to hardship, this time there was genuine concern that the sanctions, other economic measures and cancellations may actually do significant financial harm to themselves and their family. It was also noted that most expressed wretched dismay at the anticipated number of dead Russian soldiers that will be repatriated home. All believed that whilst Russia will eventually prevail militarily, previous losses in Chechnya will probably seem low by comparison.
What a mess.