Everyone wants to know what will happen next in Ukraine, but no one has an answer. Russian leaders have been vague about the operation, and it remains unclear what its territorial and temporal boundaries are.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin said on February 24, the first day of hostilities in Ukraine: “The purpose of the operation is to protect people who have been victims of abuse and genocide by the Kiev regime during eight years, and for this we will strive to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as to bring to justice those who committed [crimes] against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation”. Since then, the wording has not changed.
Presumably, Moscow wants the army to take over Ukraine from the region of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics to the Dnieper. But, currently, the offensive is underway in the west of the Dnieper. Perhaps these strikes only greatly increase the damage to the Ukrainian army and nothing more. But these are just guesses.
Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said on March 7 that Russia was ready to stop the military operation at any time, provided Ukraine recognized the independence of the Crimean peninsula and the Donetsk republics. and Luhansk, and also changes the constitution, refusing to join any bloc (i.e. mainly NATO).
Currently, most people expect negotiations with Ukraine and a cessation of hostilities. “Russia hoped to sign at least a protocol during the talks with Ukraine, but it did not sign anything. Russia’s talks with Ukraine will continue in the future. This is all that the head of the Russian delegation Vladimir Medinsky, the former minister of culture and now assistant to the president, could say at the end of the third round of talks.
Ukraine now feels the support of the whole world behind it and hopes that, in the face of total sanctions, Moscow will be more compliant. It is difficult to say how true such a calculation is. Russia can no longer suddenly withdraw its troops from Ukraine, after launching a special operation and arguing with almost the whole world.
Putin must save face and be given the opportunity to prove himself a winner, at least in the eyes of the Russians. But Kiev does not want to give it such a chance, so the only hope lies in intermediaries from other countries, such as Turkey.
It is almost impossible to understand what is happening in the areas where the fighting is taking place. Each side speaks of its victories and the colossal losses of the enemy. But, judging by leaks from military circles, confusion reigns in the combat zone as the start of the special operation was unexpectedly announced and no detailed plan was drawn up.
Such uncertainty gives rise to a variety of theories. Those who support the special operation hope that Russian troops will take control of at least eastern and central Ukraine. And the most aggressive openly write on social networks that it would be a good idea to enter Moldova, a small country between Ukraine and Romania. Moldova, until 1991, was one of the 15 republics of the USSR.
Opponents of the special operation believe that it will lead to the isolation of Russia from the world, the “iron curtain”, the collapse of the Russian economy, a protracted positional war in Ukraine with a result unpredictable and, in the future, to the possible use of nuclear weapons.
According to opinion polls conducted between February 25 and 27 by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), in cooperation with the Russian presidential administration, around 70% of Russians support Moscow’s recognition of the independence of the republics. from Donetsk and Lugansk. Moreover, 71% of the Russian population supports Putin’s actions. About 8% do not approve of the recognition of republics and about 18% do not trust Putin.
According to the survey, most of the approval is expressed by the inhabitants of small towns, who have secondary education, low incomes or are unemployed. They receive information through pro-state media (there are practically no other media in Russia anymore). Respondents with higher education, living in large cities, with a relatively high income, who receive information via the Internet, are the least likely to approve of Putin’s moves.
Moreover, there are many young Russians among those who are unhappy with Moscow’s actions. More than 30% of respondents aged 18 to 30 described the military operation as “bad”, while 47% approved of it. The approval rate was higher in other age groups.
Curiously, over the past two weeks, anxiety in Russian society has increased by more than 10%.
Those who are unhappy with the actions of the Russian authorities periodically go to rallies demanding an end to hostilities. However, the authorities not only do not listen to them, but, on the contrary, transfer any speech calling for an end to the war to the category of violations of public order, even to a criminal case. Over 5,000 people were arrested at anti-war rallies held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk (about 70 cities in total) on March 6. The police made brutal arrests, using physical force and truncheons. . In addition, detainees reported being beaten and threatened with murder.
As participants in anti-war protests say, “We don’t understand why we are being detained. Russia has always stood for peace, and suddenly, for calling for peace, we are arrested, beaten, threatened and fined!
According to the amendments to Russian legislation hastily adopted on March 4, “the public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the armed forces” (that is, the publication in the media or social networks of information that the Russian authorities consider unreliable) can lead to up to 15 years in prison.
For “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens and to maintain international peace and security”, a fine of up to 50,000 rubles (more than 360 dollars at the current exchange rate) is due from an individual. In case of recidivism, the prison sentence can go up to five years. Anyone who goes to anti-war rallies falls under this article.
Additionally, those who “call for sanctions against the Russian Federation” could be fined up to 5,00,000 rubles (over $3,600).
It is still difficult to understand how the unprecedented sanctions imposed by many countries have affected Russia. A number of international brands closed their stores, but only a fairly small portion of the population shopped there anyway. Mid-range and low-end stores are still selling old stock. True, judging by the words of businessmen, such reserves will not last long, and banking sanctions have already made it almost impossible to pay for new foreign supplies.
To pay for the goods, Russian companies are urgently looking for workarounds. Among them, payment in rubles or bitcoins, as well as the conclusion of supply contracts through Kazakhstan, which is part of the customs union with Russia and Belarus, but has not been subject to sanctions. . Russia is also negotiating with some countries, including India, to sell them oil at a 25-27% discount, subject to payment bypassing the SWIFT banking system of international payments.
An interesting detail: many ordinary citizens on the streets of Moscow are beginning to blame the current difficulties on the European Union and the United States. For some reason, they forget that the sanctions were imposed because of Russia’s outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine.
Optimists in Russia hope the sanctions will lead to explosive growth in development and production at home in everything from agriculture to space. Putin signs benefit orders for various industries almost daily. But it is still unclear how national goods would suddenly appear, goods that could not be produced for the past 20 years? And who would set up production in a country where the purchasing power of the population is rapidly falling and many representatives of big business are trying to leave Russia, fearing nationalization?
Under these conditions, many people in Russia prefer to close their eyes and believe Putin’s words that the country will emerge “renewed” from the current difficulties. “We don’t know how this is possible, but we think Putin has a plan. For example, China will support us,” they say.
Perhaps their optimism is justified. Sanctions may indeed prove short-lived, since they harm not only Russia, but also the countries that impose them. Oil and gas prices have skyrocketed, and according to forecasts by the Russian Ministry of Energy, in the event of a refusal to buy oil from Russia, the price of a barrel of crude could rise to 300 dollars in the future. ‘international. A grain shortage is also expected. Russia brings to the world market about 19% of the total volume of wheat and a significant share of other cereals. It also supplies Europe with about a quarter of its nitrogen fertilizers, as well as natural gas and ammonia, two components needed for fertilizer production. If the sanctions continue, the shortfall could also affect many other industries, including high-tech ones, as Russia is important in supplying a wide variety of natural raw materials to the global market.
The economic impact of sanctions against Russia is already severe, the International Monetary Fund said, with prices for energy and commodities, including wheat and other grains, rising sharply. This is exacerbating inflationary pressures caused by supply chain disruptions and the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Western analysts, for example from Morgan Stanley, believe that Russia could go bankrupt as early as mid-April, when it should pay bond coupons. However, in Russia in 1998, there was already a sovereign default on bonds, but the situation has improved.
In the meantime, optimists believe that the sanctions will not have such a strong impact on the Russian economy. And those who try to think more objectively hope that the country can hold out until July, and before that, something will happen: either the sanctions will be lifted or aliens will arrive.