Russians support President Putin over Ukraine despite economic pain

Support remains for Vladimir Putin. Credit: AP

Before 24 February, Vera Loktionova dreamed of a better life, one where she could afford to buy her own flat and plan for the future.

For Russians and Ukrainians, the consequences of the war in Ukraine are very different.

Ukrainians have been driven out of their homes, thousands have fled abroad, many have lost their lives and some allegedly have been executed by Russian forces.

ITV News Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports on the impact on ordinary Russians

Some Russians have also fled their country, fleeing a crackdown which has seen every independent newspaper and broadcaster shut down after the introduction of laws threatening anyone spreading "fake news" about Russia’s operation in Ukraine with up to 15 years in prison.

Others worry they won’t be able to feed their families as rising prices eat into their salaries.

The military conflict now means citizens of Ukraine and Russia are both reassessing their futures.

A Chanel store among the many retail outlets closed.

"The prices of things like bread, milk, eggs, potatoes, fruit and vegetables are up between ten to 15 per cent," Vera Loktionova told ITV News in Moscow.

Her plans to buy an apartment are on hold: “I don’t know what will happen in the future, what the interest rate will be as mortgage interest rates are all higher.”

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the national currency, the rouble, collapsed and the Russian Central Bank stepped in to defend it.

The Central Bank hiked interest rates from 9.5% to 20% and imposed strict currency controls in a bid to contain the economic fallout from what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Multiple international companies from McDonalds to H&M, Uniqlo and designer brands such as LVMH and Chanel have voluntarily shut their shops in Moscow in the aftermath of western sanctions being imposed on Russia.

Signs on some shop doors suggest they are shut "temporarily" or for "technical reasons."

While big corporations may hope to once again open their doors, some of the Russian public they served have now left.

A message left for Chanel customers.

"People like me have suffered a lot," one 38-year-old woman who recently left Russia told ITV News on condition of anonymity.

"We, the middle classes, are used to buying food in good grocery stores, travelling to Europe, using online banking and transferring salaries into dollars or euros. We are progressive Russians who don’t support the president because we believe in western values. Now we can’t access the money in our bank accounts from abroad or take money out of the country."

On Thursday, President Putin said attempts by the west to economically punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine would become "quite painful, first of all, for the initiators of such a policy."

According to a poll by the independent Russian pollster the Levada Center, concern about sanctions in Russia increased significantly in March.

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At the same time, however, support for President Putin and his "special military operation" in Ukraine increased.

Sanctions, Vera Loktionova told ITV News "are being imposed to make Russia weaker and to limit its potential."

"Of course, there is harm to our economy," Pyotr Tolstoy, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, the Russian parliament, told ITV News.

"But we shouldn’t forget that only one third of countries imposed sanctions against Russia. But two-thirds did not. And we will cooperate with them.

"We will sell them oil, gas and fertilisers. But we will not sell oil, gas and fertilisers to our ‘partners’ in Europe. Europe is losing the unique advantage of being close to Russia."

Some Russian officials and members of the Russian public firmly believe the country will weather the economic storm.

A Bershka store closed.

Other officials, such as Vladimir Putin’s former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, have warned the Russian economy is facing is worst downturn since 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is the Soviet collapse and the turmoil that followed which is precisely why Russians will be able to survive anything the west now throws at them, Loktionova told ITV News.

"It is very hard to frighten us with sanctions.

"The 1990s really were not good. It was a strange, dark time. It was scary on the streets and there was no food. There were no opportunities and we lived day to day.

"Then we had the default [of Russian debt in 1998] and the financial crisis in 2008. In 2014 they hit us with a load of sanctions [following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine] but we learned to live with them. We are trained!"

Outside the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, a lone protester on Thursday waved a flag associated with Russia’s military in Ukraine and held up a sign saying "the people need a state bank instead of pro-American central bank."

Uniqlo among the many stores to shut its doors.

Russians appear to be prepared to dig deep to weather the storm of western sanctions even if it affects them personally.

"I'm under EU sanctions, I'm under British sanctions, under US sanctions and under Japanese sanctions. And you know what? Nothing has changed. I have a Japanese car, a Toyota, I should probably sell it in retaliation," Pyotr Tolstoy, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma told ITV News.

"The fact that politicians are under sanctions will not change anything at all. It will just make the path to resuming this dialogue longer."

The breadth and depth of sanctions against Russia means that not only banks, businesses, oligarchs and Russian officials have fallen under economic blockade but also members of their families.

Vladimir Putin’s daughters Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova have been sanctioned by the US and UK as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s daughter Ekaterina Vinokurova who grew up in the United States.

The UK recently also sanctioned Mr Lavrov’s step-daughter Polina Kovaleva who reportedly owns a £4 million property in London.

Many Russian officials also have relatives abroad who do not live under sanctions, including the ex-wife and son of President Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov who live in Paris.

"I don't think it’s a crime. They want to live in France, they live in France, so what?" Pyotr Tolstoy, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma told ITV News.

"Today is a moment when any citizen of Russia - official or not - makes a choice. Either you stand by your president and your army, or you stand by someone else's army. And the majority choose Russia."

Some people have not.

“I think what is going on in Ukraine is a horrible disgrace for my country and the pictures of massacres in Bucha and other places tear my heart into pieces,” a 38-year-old woman who recently left Russia told ITV News.

"The fact that I share the same nationality with Tchaikovsky or Chekov does not make me a better Russian. And the fact that I share it with Putin or those who killed people and raped them in Ukraine does not make me a villain either.”

Russia has denied all allegations of war crimes and genocide in Ukraine and for some of those who remain, sanctions are a pain worth bearing to support the Russian president in his "special military operation" in Ukraine.

"I’m a citizen of this country, I voted for my president and I support the politics he pursues," Loktionova said.

"The west has imposed sanctions and we will all suffer including you. I hear people are not doing well in the countries who imposed sanctions. We will overcome this because we have immunity!"