Russian President Vladimir Putin asserts that sanctions have failed
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Russia's president is answering Western sanctions by saying they failed. Vladimir Putin made that case in numerous speeches. He spoke after the U.S., the European Union, the U.K., Japan and some other nations, which represent a giant share of the world economy, closed off much business with Russia. So what's Putin's case? NPR's Charles Maynes is in Moscow.
Hey there, Charles.
CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi there.
INSKEEP: What do the sanctions feel like where you are?
MAYNES: You know, it's been quite a ride. When sanctions kicked in, the currency, the ruble, cratered. That sent people scrambling for dollars and euros. Then we saw a run on goods, mainly out of a fear of inflation or that items might disappear. You know, and some of them you might expect, like iPhones. Others were more surprising, like sugar. But these days, most items are back on the shelves. Only prices are way up. And, of course, there's also been this exodus of foreign companies from Russia. So that's meant a lot of shuttered storefronts.
But all that said, the ruble - it's back, you know, almost to where it was before the conflict began. And now, that's thanks to government efforts to prop it up artificially and, of course, money pouring in from Russian energy exports, which are huge. But all this has created this kind of weird sense of normalcy here, although I really hesitate to use that word, given the conflict.
INSKEEP: Has Putin played up that sense that there's nothing to see here?
MAYNES: Yeah. You know, in this week in multiple settings, he was defiant and made the case that what he called the blitzkrieg of sanctions had failed. You know, Putin's basic message was they present Russia with opportunities to become more self-reliant and to build new partnerships.
Let's listen in.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).
MAYNES: So Putin here is saying that economies always adapt. And if you can find something in one country, well, you go to another, and it's unavoidable. And so Putin's idea is that what Russia can no longer get from the West, it can now get from China or India and that what Russia currently sells to the West, you know, mainly gas and oil, it can provide to new, friendlier markets, if it comes to that.
INSKEEP: Well, can Russia pivot its whole economy to places like China and India then?
MAYNES: Well, experts aren't as optimistic. They say these sanctions will be devastating, and it's just too early to see. At least that's the view of Natalya Zubarevich. She's a specialist on Russia's regional development with Moscow State University.
NATALIA ZUBAREVICH: (Speaking Russian).
MAYNES: So Zubarevich calls these sanctions a genuine shock to the Russian economy. But she says, "we'll only feel the real impact starting in May or June, when," she says, "production lines will break down." Now, she argues the reason for that is imported parts. Most of what's made in Russia comes from at least some component made in the West, often specialized and high-tech, which China can't provide, at least not right away. "And so without these parts, work will just stop," she says, "in car factories, in offshore drilling for gas and airplane manufacturing and so on." And, of course, all this impacts people's lives.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the people. To the extent that you can tell, what are ordinary Russians thinking about sanctions?
MAYNES: Well, we sort of know. Polls will tell you that a vast majority of Russians, over 80%, support Putin's policies in Ukraine, although most only have access to state media. That's important 'cause that media presents the view that these sanctions are the West trying to keep Russia down. You know, in conversations I have, at least, I also hear another view. People say this will all be over soon. You know, give it a few months, and everything will go back to normal. How realistic that is is questionable. But it's a view the Kremlin can certainly live with, at least for now.
INSKEEP: NPR's Charles Maynes is in Moscow. Thanks.
MAYNES: Thank you.
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