Russian morale darkening as countrys isolation echoes Soviet Union ‘hardship’

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Vladimir Putin continues to wage war on Ukraine, with Russian troops having yesterday bombed a theatre in Mariupol that was reportedly sheltering around 1000 civilians. While the number of casualties from the attack are unclear, local MP Dmitro Gurin claimed that most of the civilians affected survived as they were gathered in a basement that withstood the bombing. Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine has been condemned across the West, while the country has also been hit with severe sanctions.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has effectively criminalised public opposition to the war and any independent reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Putin has blocked access to Facebook, Instagram and a number of major foreign news outlets, while he has enacted a law punishing the spread of “false information” about the invasion of Ukraine with up to 15 years in prison. 

As Russia becomes a pariah state, the atmosphere among its people will be “darkening”, with their “isolation” echoing the Soviet era, claimed the BBC’s former Moscow correspondent, Kevin Connolly. 

Mr Connolly told “The big change the Russians will feel isn’t economic. 

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“There are many older Russians in particular who remember the hardship of the Soviet Union. 

“The new law basically criminalising independent journalism, the very restrictive way in which this war is being reported by the Russian authorities, the attempt to control the language in which military operations in Ukraine are discussed ‒ that’s going to feel like a darkening of the political mood. 

“Russia was already not a free society. This kind of conflict makes things even darker for ordinary Russians. 

“I think the big fear ordinary Russians have is the great tangible benefit that middle class Russians got from the collapse of the Soviet Union, was the ability to travel.

“The Soviet Union was a prison of its own people and the end of the Soviet Union meant that Russians could travel. 

“We’ve all met Russians on our travels in France or Spain or Greece or wherever. That was a massive change for them.

“Any hint that those sorts of restrictions might come back, that their freedom to roam the world will be restricted, that will be seen as a further darkening and isolating of the atmosphere there.”

The crackdown on free reporting comes as the Kremlin scrambles to control the narrative surrounding the war, with Russia facing their most severe economic crisis in decades.

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Russia’s central bank had responded to sanctions by more than doubling the interest rate from 9.5 percent to 20 percent, while the Moscow Stock Exchange has remained closed for the third week running.

Meanwhile, Western companies that the Russian middle class have become reliant on, including Apple, Dell, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, have been exiting the country en masse.

Mr Connolly said: “The closure of the Russian stock market tells you that the Russian authorities are terrified these sanctions will cause a massive drop in the value of the ruble. That’s already started to happen. 

“Russia won’t be able to pay its debts on the world stage. 

“It’s going to start trying to pay its foreign debts in rubles instead of dollars and euros. That is going to look like a default. 

“All those things will eventually feed through into higher and higher prices [and] fewer and fewer choices for ordinary Russians.”

In a televised address on Wednesday, Putin said that the “economic blitzkrieg” of Western sanctions had “failed”, though warned his citizens to prepare for rising unemployment and inflation. 

According to AFP, Putin said: “Yes, it is not easy for us now, but the economic blitzkrieg against Russia has failed.”

The President did acknowledge that there were several challenges facing the Russian economy and predicted a “temporary” rise in inflation. 

According to Bloomberg he said: “The new realities will require deep structural changes in our economy, and I won’t hide it, they won’t be easy.”

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