Russians remember collapse of Soviet Union as country faces financial meltdown

ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery reports on the impact sanctions are already having on the Russian people

Vladimir Putin is a widely popular president. Polls regularly put his approval rating at around 70%. He took the reins of Russia in 1999 from President Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin was frequently pictured drinking and for many Russians he was an embarrassment when he led the country following the Soviet collapse.

After years of hyperinflation in the 1990s, devaluation, spiraling prices and queues for bread, Vladimir Putin, a KGB man, took control. Since 1991, living standards in Russia have increased, buoyed by high oil prices.

Some Russians started to save money, a small middle class emerged and people began to be able to do things like holidaying abroad. Many Russians had a new sense of stability and of a prosperous future. The queues for bread disappeared.

There are now fears among some Russians that those days of chaos and instability may be back.

The shock of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, ensuing western sanctions and collapse of the national currency, the rouble, has meant some citizens have been trying to buy dollars and euros, worried about further crashes.

A Moscow resident who has struggled to withdraw cash from multiple ATMs tells ITV News why she is exchanging her money

At a central Moscow shopping centre, a woman told ITV News she was buying foreign currency because of the unstable economic situation.

"We could end up without anything and won't even be able to buy bread," she said.

"Depreciation, devaluation - it's already happened in our country. I don't want to end up hungry."

Russia's stock market opened late on Monday after western nations agreed to expel some Russian banks from the Swift international payments system and target the Russian central bank's ability to raise funds by selling its foreign currency reserves abroad.

UK energy group BP said it would sell its 20% stake in the Russian state-owned company Rosneft worth $14 billion. By lunchtime on Monday, the rouble had devalued by around 30% against the dollar.

Russia's central bank responded by hiking interest rates from 9.75% to 20% and said it had the ability to support the economy through the shock.

How have financial sanctions hit Russia's economy? ITV News Economics Editor Joel Hills explains

On a day when Russia's financial system came under unprecedented external pressure, state television, a key source of news, projected calm.

Newsreaders informed Russians that bank cards from unsanctioned banks will continue to work and said Russia has developed its own payment system to replace SWIFT which already has nine international members - none from the west.

After an emergency meeting of the Russian central bank, the governor Elvira Nabiullina said the bank has enough funds to guarantee Russians will still be able to withdraw money but indicated authorities are anticipating a scenario where ordinary Russians cannot afford to repay their debts.

Nabiullina urged banks to talk to clients and not impose penalties on those who are unable to make repayments. Ordinary Russians are already acutely worried about the worsening financial situation.

"I bought some small reserves of food with the money I could afford to spend, in case there is a total catastrophe," Alexandra, a single mother of two children told ITV News.

She earns around £260 ($350) a month with the money being spent on rent, bills and food.

The remainder of her income comes from benefits and credit. "If banks are blocked, what will we do?" she said.

"I bought cereal and milk, things which the children need. Just for a short amount of time so we can hold out.'

Why has Russia invaded Ukraine and can Putin be stopped? Our experts tell you what you need to know in our latest podcast. Listen here:

The economic nightmare Russia is facing from sanctions following President Putin's decision to invade Ukraine means that Russians are re-assessing the way they have been living their lives since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"We were never rich but there was some stability," Alexandra told ITV News.

"We could buy something, we could go on holiday, even if it was only once a year. The situation changed a lot with coronavirus but the latest events make me think that we are just going to have to survive."

The financial sanctions imposed by the West following the invasion of Ukraine will impact the entire Russian economy, from large state energy companies, such as Gazprom and Rosneft, to banks and small businesses.

Alexandra has been stockpiling.

Lilia Kosyreva owns a dance wear clothing company, Zidans, which sells dance wear around the world.

Clients include dancers at the Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Ballet in London and American Ballet Theatre in New York.

"I feel anxious because I don't know how this will affect us," she told ITV News.

"We import fabrics, most of our clients are foreigners. We are apprehensive about how we will accept payments."

She is also worried about operating as a Russian business while her country is at war with Ukraine. "The strongest worry is reputational damage, what will foreigners think about us? I think this will have an impact in the coming months," Kosyreva said.

The war has deeply affected many Russians who are concerned about their own financial situation but also about Ukraine.

"The situation is awful, it is a catastrophe," Alexandra said.

"It's hard to think about this without tears. When I put myself in their shoes, when bombs are exploding above their heads and they have nowhere to go and need to hide their children, it is awful."

Over the past few years, Vladimir Putin's popularity has been steadily dropping as the cost of living has increased and Russia has grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.

Since becoming president, Putin has repeatedly promised Russians a better quality of life. With Russians already noticing rising prices and the country increasingly isolated from the west, a key question will be how he can deliver on that promise and what happens if he fails.

Vladimir Putin went to war in Ukraine bemoaning the collapse of the Soviet Union, now some Russians are worried they will see its bread-lines once again on their streets.