Russia’s Sanctions Against The West Are Hurting Russians More Than The West
Russia’s retaliatory sanctions against the West are is having an impact on the average Russian’s food budget:
Russia’s embargo on imported Western food is hitting its own people, as food prices in Moscow shops have jumped by up to 6% in just a week.
Moscow officials say frozen fish prices in the capital’s major supermarkets have risen by 6%, milk by 5.3% and an average cheese costs 4.4% more than it did before the 7 August ban took effect.
Russia has banned imports of those basic foods, as well as meat and many other products, from Western countries, Australia and Japan. It is retaliation for the West’s sanctions on Russia over the revolt by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
And it is not just Moscow. On the island of Sakhalin, in Russia’s far east, officials say the price of chicken thighs has soared 60%. Before the sanctions these were among the cheapest and most popular meat products in Russia.
In the neighbouring Primorye region fish is now reportedly 40% more expensive than just a few weeks ago.
On Russian social networks there are already plenty of pictures showing empty shelves in Moscow supermarkets, where foreign varieties of cheese or yoghurt used to be abundant.
That is not typical of most Moscow shops – the authorities say stocks imported before the ban are large enough to last for a month or more.
By that time, according to the authorities, European goods will have been replaced by supplies from Brazil, Argentina, Turkey or Egypt.
But some experts say those new supplies will not be enough to prevent further price rises.
“The Brazilian meat price for September is already 20 to 30% higher than it was in August. Don’t set your hopes on Brazil, this is just the beginning of a general price rise,” Sergei Yushin, head of Russia’s Meat Suppliers’ Association, told the business daily Vedomosti.
Polls show that the vast majority of Russians approve of the sanctions against Western food. They have been told by government officials and state-controlled TV that the embargo will not affect prices, and that it will actually allow Russia’s own agriculture to flourish. And that message is being believed.
The Russian authorities have already promised to monitor food prices closely and punish anyone who tries to profit from the situation illegally. A Soviet-era word – “spekulyanty” – is being used again. It means black market speculators.
Smuggled Western goods were sold at inflated prices in the Soviet Union, where many basic foods and other goods were in short supply.
Some liberal economists in Russia warn that if the state tries to regulate food prices again then the country could face real shortages reminiscent of Soviet times.
The question, of course, is whether Russian public opinion will change if prices continue to rise and shortages become more common. As we’ve seen, Vladimir Putin has a tremendous amount of public support in Russia for his current policies, and those numbers have only risen since the Crimea crisis and Russia’s proxy war in eastern Ukraine. How likely is it, really, that the Russian people will blame him for the economic troubles rather than the West? It’s an important question because, in some sense, it is at the core of the West’s sanctions strategy to begin with. If Putin never feels any real pressure to divert from his current course regardless of what the impact on the Russian economy is, then one has to wonder what good further sanctions would actually be in deterring him.