While European news outlets report daily about how economic sanctions are inflating Western economies, few are talking about how life has changed in Russia. While the nation has seen western brands ditch the country and the state has admitted that it has lost access to 56.7% of its foreign reserve due to economic sanctions, for the average Russian, how has life changed?
In cities like Saint Petersburg or Moscow, life goes on. Metros run on time and people go to work. However, minor changes have occurred. Entire floors of shopping centres once filled with global brands are closed; now it’s only once you go to the second or third floors, subtly placed far from the bright lights of the entrances, you find their Russian equivalents still open.
Malls in Saint Petersburg at least seem to have an element of public entertainment; places where families go to relax and be together on Saturdays and Sunday evenings. Alongside major shops leaving the market, the food courts will be very different. Mcdonald's, an extremely popular import, has been a notable exit from the Russian market. For youth and families that go to the mall to relax, this loss may detract them from going. Consequently, Russian malls may become places of necessity rather than frivolity.
While there has been slight food inflation, this has been minimal in comparison to the huge inflation seen in the cost of essentials in Western nations. In Russia, there are few shortages on the shelves of supermarkets. The nation is a huge producer of grain and the production of wheat and grain will be little affected by the loss of supply from Ukraine. Elsewhere across the world, the loss of harvest from Ukrainian territories, near Mariupol and the Donbas, has caused havoc on grain demand.
Similarly, while foreign products like Nescafe Coffee have increased by a couple of hundred roubles per jar, this is nowhere near comparable to the cost increase for essentials like gas and oil in the West. For Russia, a major supplier of gas and oil, prices during the conflict have remained low; fuelling cars and paying heating bills will not be as considerable an issue as it has become to be for some in countries like the UK.
One changing aspect that, for particular groups, will be catastrophic is the inflation of the Western pharmaceuticals market in Russia. In Russia, while there is a state healthcare system, it often does not cover the costs of patient medication. Just as brands have left the nation, western pharmaceutical firms have made it more difficult for patients to buy life-saving medications with sharp price increases. The Pharmaletter has published that “the Russian government will allocate additional 23 billion roubles ($305 million) for the procurements of high-priced imported drugs” and how “The Russian Ministry of Health has prepared a list of 39 anticancer drugs that are likely to be in short supply in the country due to…Western sanctions imposed on Russia”. Recently, to edge this gap in the market, the State has given the green light to Indian pharmaceutical companies to operate in Russia and has been replacing the patent protection of drugs with Russian manufacturers. Both of these actions should combat the price hike in the long run. However, for those needing to buy life-saving medication frequently, the measures are of no use. Between February and March and the start of the invasion, there was a 42% rise in medication costs in Russia.
All in all, while life in Russia will have changed in terms of consumer choice, for most, there will be only minor inconveniences caused by the conflict. The only extreme personal costs come from situations where there is a pre-existing reliance on Western products, such as pharmaceuticals. Another awful situation eventuality of the last few months would be having a loved one sent to fight in Ukraine. For young Russians in the future, fewer global opportunities may emerge as western sanctions will make travel harder and employers preference western candidates. However, for those within Russia, the cost of war seems minimal and comes down to an increased cost of a MacBook computer or not being able to buy a Starbucks Coffee.
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