The Siberian calm is rooted in two things. The first is the Russian character as described in a Perestroika anecdote – a pessimist is someone who believes things can’t get worse and an optimist is someone who knows they can and will. The second is the experience of three previous economic shocks (early 1990s, 1998 and 2008), when all aspects of life were drastically transformed overnight. In addition, the 2014 Crimea sanctions demonstrated that there is opportunity for those ready to take advantage of it. The cheese niche is now being filled by people like Alexei the cheddar cheese master from Tyumen.
After the initial jump, the ruble-dollar exchange rate is lower than it was before the SMO. Forty-two brands in Novosibirsk remain closed but some, like IKEA and Zara, continue to pay their workers and are waiting for an opportunity to return, citing supply chain issues
. McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC are still operating. Coke is available – just no more investment or marketing by the company. At the Mega Mall, the “unfortunately, we are temporarily closed” signs hang like “back in 10 minutes” signs, with fully dressed mannequins and full shelves and racks in the stores
. On a recent Sunday, there were plenty of shoppers, many flocking to the French holdouts Leroy Merlin and Auchan.
There have been several runs on products, including sugar and Xerox paper. The latest is female hygiene products and some stores are limiting three to a customer, besides sugar and kasha rationing. Despite some hoarding, the shelves remain full of these and most other products.
Inflation is real but fluctuating. A Novosibirsk newspaper project monitors the costs of goods at 10 of the most popular supermarkets. In the last week of April, the average cost
of most products listed are down weekly (sugar by -3.91%, salt by -2.54%, tea by -10.11%, macaroni by -11.34%, bread by -4.60%; rice climbed +4.90%, buckwheat by +2.28% and vodka +1.25%).
I met an interior decorator who has never been busier – “people can’t invest abroad so they are investing here.” Round-the-clock work on the massive Sberbank Manzherok Resort has continued, but there are concerns over a potential pause because the interiors were from Italy, meaning a substitute may need to be found. Many people in Manzherok are building guest houses to take advantage of what is expected to be a blockbuster season, since it is hard to travel abroad. However, Turkey has just made that easier by creating a new airline, Southwind, to accommodate Russian tourists.
Anyone with strong ties to the West, financial or personal, is having a harder time. The UnionPay salvation card crashed when China stopped negotiations with Russian banks due to fears of secondary sanctions
. One friend and her daughter lost jobs that were connected to Western business; it is clear that more layoffs are to come.
Nobody needs to wear a Z for the war to be felt – the sanctions have ensured that it is a shared experience: the teenager who can’t make income from Instagram, the babushka worried about cooking oil, the beautician who can’t see American movies in the theater, the mini-oligarch who doesn’t have access to his Swiss bank accounts, the middle class family waiting for IKEA to open or a car part to arrive.
One acquaintance told me she hoped this inspired people to take more responsibility for their country and especially government. There are some signs of this in the village. For the first time, the chat has hosted detailed, hours-long discussions about improving the quality of life. A protest over illegal deforestation gained traction on social media and was picked up by regional news.