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Amid high inflation, Moscow seeks a 'sense of normal' amid Ukraine conflict

At Moscow's sprawling Izmailovsky outdoor souvenir market, shoppers can find cups and T-shirts commemorating Russia's deployment of troops into Ukraine

Russia Ukraine conflict

Russia Ukraine conflict continues

AP Moscow
At Moscow's sprawling Izmailovsky outdoor souvenir market, shoppers can find cups and T-shirts commemorating Russia's deployment of troops into Ukraine but from the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
There's nothing about the special military operation that began six months ago.
Throughout the capital, there are few overt sign that Russia is engaged in the worst fighting in Europe since World War II.
Displays of the letter Z which initially spread as an icon of the fight, replicating the insignia painted on Russian military vehicles are hardly seen.
Russia's economic prospects are far from clear: Unemployment is down, contrary to many predictions. But the gross domestic product fell a sharp 4 per cent in the second quarter of the year the first full period of fighting and is predicted to contract by nearly 8 per cent for the full year.
Inflation is calculated to be 15 per cent for the year.
But if impending economic troubles are obvious, they don't appear to be causing wide anxiety.
The public reticence, or denial, about the operation in Ukraine is striking in a country where military exploits are deeply woven into the social fabric.
The annexation of Crimea produced almost instant memes, notably images of President Vladimir Putin that called him the most polite person", a smug variant on the characterisation of Russian troops as polite.
Victory Day, marking the defeat of Nazi Germany, is obsessively observed with weeks of anticipation.
A Lamborghini dealership on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, a main Moscow thoroughfare, still displays a Victory Day banner, even though the showroom is dark.
Lamborghini pulled out of Russia, along with hundreds of other foreign companies that suspended or ended their operations after Russia sent troops into Ukraine.
Darkened storefronts and deserted spaces in shopping malls that once held popular fast-food outlets such as McDonald's and Starbucks are the most visible sign of the conflict in Moscow.
The companies' departures were a psychological blow to Muscovites who had become used to the shiny comforts of consumer culture.
Former McDonald's and Starbucks outlets were acquired by Russian entrepreneurs who speedily moved to reopen with almost carbon-copy operations.
Although the belief that Russia can create homegrown alternatives to businesses that left has become an article of faith among officials, many Russians have private doubts.
A survey by the Levada Center, Russia's only independent pollster, found that 81 per cent of Russians believe the country will be able to replace foreign food operations with domestic alternatives, while only 41 per cent think local industries can fully substitute for electronic goods and only a third believe domestic car production can make up for the loss of imports.
The automotive industry was slammed by sanctions that dried up the supply of parts.
The state statistics service said car production in May had fallen a punishing 97 per cent from the same month in 2021. Putin recently admitted Russia's shipyards are also suffering supply shortages.
The panic that swept Russia in the immediate aftermath of broad Western sanctions and foreign companies abandoned the country has abated.
The ruble, which lost half of its value against the dollar right after the sanctions, not only rebounded but rose to levels not seen in years.
But if that's good for national pride, it's a burden on export-reliant industries whose products became more costly.
The desire to take vacations has been a peculiar success story for Russia's sense of self-sufficiency in the sanctions era.
Denied easy air connections to Western Europe industry experts say Russian travel to popular Italy has dropped to nearly nothing Russians have found exotic domestic destinations, such as Sakhalin Island, 6,300 kilometres (3,900 miles) from Moscow, where tourism reportedly is up 25 per cent; traffic to Baltic Sea beaches in Kaliningrad has reached all time daily highs.
Tourism to Crimea, however, is expected to be about 40 per cent lower than usual.
Lengthy segments painted the Kremlin's military as highly effective, using top-of-the-line weapons.
About 60 per cent of Russians rely on state television as their main news source, but may find it unreliable. A Levada survey this month found that fully 65 per cent of Russians disbelieve some or all of what they see on state media about Ukraine.
Many of those sources, however, can be accessed only through a VPN, or virtual private network. Russia has banned or blocked an array of foreign news media, bullied critical domestic media into closing and banned use of Facebook and Twitter.
In a repressive environment, assessing the population's views as a whole, even by an internationally respected pollster such as Levada, is uncertain.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Aug 23 2022 | 7:11 PM IST

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