Moscow residents appeared anxious but resilient as the country geared up for its annual commemoration of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on Sunday with an economy reeling from the West’s toughest economic sanctions in modern times.
As the Russian military operation in Ukraine nears the end of its third month, President Vladimir Putin will highlight the enormous sacrifices made by the Soviet Union to defeat Adolf Hitler in World War II during a speech on the day of Victory in Red Square on Monday.
Sanctions imposed by Western nations since Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine on February 24 have pushed Russia into its worst economic crisis since the years following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, although the Kremlin says it will develop its own production while seeking new markets in Asia.
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Some Russians said they were anxious and emotional given the close family ties between the two largest East Slavic populations now divided by the conflict.
“Emotionally it affects you because I have two sisters who live in Ukraine,” said Larisa, a Muscovite who spoke to Reuters. “Of course it’s very difficult to communicate with them now – very difficult. They have their own information war going on now.”
But Larisa, who like several others spoke on the condition that her surname not be used, also said patriotism was rising in Russian society.
“In the whole of Russia there is now a lot of cohesion among the masses in connection with these events: what I can say is that patriotism is growing,” said Larisa, in the well-to-do ponds district. from Patriarshiye to Moscow.
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Opinion polls show that most Russians support the military operation and Putin’s approval rating has risen by more than 14 percentage points to 81.5% since the start of the military operation.
Russian opposition activists say state media only partially reports on the conflict and independent media have been stifled. Russian officials say Western media have reported an overly pro-Ukrainian version of the conflict while ignoring Moscow’s concerns.
One man, Dmitry, spoke of the “constant tension” of the situation while a woman called Evgenia said the conflict had been a blow.
“For me, it’s a very strong psychological blow, and almost everyone around me is experiencing the same thing,” said Evgenia, who spoke of many signs “for sale” in her Moscow neighborhood.
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Victory Day is a major holiday in Russia these days. The Soviet Union – made up of Russia, Ukraine and other Soviet republics – lost 27 million people in World War II, more than any other country. Putin has railed in recent years against what Moscow sees as Western attempts to revise World War II history to downplay the Soviet victory.
Putin says he has launched what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine to prevent the West from using Ukraine to threaten Russia and root out people he calls dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and the West say that Russia has launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
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In an elite Moscow restaurant, there was a sense of foreboding mixed with a dawning confidence that Russia would endure — and even use the crisis as an opportunity to prosper in the long term.
Maria Podzolko, manager of Selfie, a restaurant that won a Michelin star last year, said some of the exuberance had gone – and wine prices had risen sharply as domestic production was not still sufficient.
“Selfie is an expensive restaurant – there is a certain contingent of customers here for whom the crisis is more emotional than economic,” Podzolko told Reuters.
“Almost all birthdays have been canceled,” Podzolko said. “Companies canceled all major events because everyone was held hostage to such deep stress and our gastronomy suffered the most.”
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Chef Anatoly Kazakov having always worked with Russian products, Selfie still offers a menu of delicacies including sea urchins from Murmansk, scallops from Sakhalinsk in the Pacific and duck from Rostov in the south.
“The deficit that has been created will give an opportunity for domestic production and trade to expand,” Podzolko said.
Selfie, which sits in the shadow of one of Josef Stalin’s so-called Seven Sisters skyscrapers, offers a range of Russian wines although foreign wine is expensive.
A bottle of 2009 Chateau Roc de Cambes from France’s Cotes de Bourg is listed on the menu at 46,000 rubles ($683), although it costs less than $100 a bottle in London, according to wine search sites.
The average monthly salary in Russia is 57,344 rubles.