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By that time, according to the authorities, European goods will have been replaced by supplies from Brazil, Argentina, Turkey or Egypt.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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tillman says:

    History tells us hunger is more powerful than nationalism. You support a guy right up until your pride conflicts with your absent food.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    In the entire history of Russia, including the USSR phase, have they ever had competent,rational government? This was an absolutely idiotic move by Putin. It was impulsive, symbolic and silly.

  3. So how long before we start seeing show trials of store owners for “profiteering” by raising food prices? After all, if Putin said prices weren’t going to rise, anyone raising prices must be attempting to create public unrest.

  4. Andre Kenji says:

    I can´t complain. That´s going to be good for my country. 😛

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    All depends on how long their memories are. A way back when the USSR was on it’s last legs, some Russian cavers came to MO. Their favorite place to visit? The grocery store.

  6. @OzarkHillbilly:

    My mom (surginal nurse) once had a story about several Russian doctors who came to the hospital she worked at as part of an exchange program of some sort during the mid 80s and couldn’t believe that such a small suburban hospital would have its own CT machine, much less the two the hospital had at the time.

    She also mentioned one of the doctors thought that the people in the area must be really poor, because he had been to a grocery store, and the only way there could be that much stuff on the shelves is if no one could afford to buy anything.

  7. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    How does anyone ever imagine that waging economic war on people powerless to fight back–as sanctions do–will deter despots in their machinations? Where have they ever worked?

  8. gVOR08 says:

    Good article on Putin in New Yorker a week or two ago. He appears to have a media machine very much like our Conservative Entrainment Complex. Their CEC will blame any hardship on western conspiracies and Putin’s popularity will rise.

    The question with hostile foreign leaders is always whether they’re rational actors or believe their bull. Putin seems to believe his bull.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    You understand that this was Putin’s sanction, right? Ours have been targeted carefully at the elite.

  10. rudderpedals says:

    So Putin ran a couple of hundred mostly empty white painted army trucks around Eastern Ukraine and reportedly they came back today. What was up with that?