Entry 2: Notes from Kazan
I went to the ‘Pyatorichka’ store this morning to purchase my usual unimaginative basket of goods — rice, some kind of meat, a few tomatoes, that kind of thing. I have my own little ‘inflation index’, and at its core is my favourite snack — chilli nuts. I figure it’s probably domestically produced except for the spices which are imported. Before February 24th, this snack used to set me back about 70 rubles — then it rose to 80, and now it’s 99.99. A 30% increase in a month.
My friends tell me that the pattern is pretty clear — domestically produced goods are almost unaffected by inflation, but goods which are partially or entirely reliant on imports have seen large price increases. I’m told that the price of an imported fridge has increased by 100% for example. However, my understanding is also that after the initial big jump in prices, they have now stabilised at this higher level, at least for the moment. Is the inflation just taking a pause for breath, before rising again? We’ll see. The ruble is clearly receiving fresh central bank support, because it has consolidated over the past week.
Sanctions impact economies painfully and highlight areas where domestic production is absent. One such case here is women’s sanitary products. There are significant shortages, as apparently Russian retailers were reliant on European producers, and it will take some time to make agreements with alternative suppliers (perhaps from China, as appears to be the strategy with so many disrupted imports). In general, for Chinese and other non-western business, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to simply capture large consumer goods segments of a massive, middle-income country. Until the adjustments happen however, the shortages of these particular goods will persist.
To conclude my notes for this time, I want to make a quick reference to Russian TV, which western readers might not be too familiar with. ‘Channel 1’ is the main pro-Government TV station, watched mainly by older people (but also my pal from university, which is how I came to watch a few hours of it recently). It’s clear that they’ve learned a lot from Fox and the other American news networks about how to present a war. It reminds me of how those networks presented the US invasion and occupation of Iraq — all flashy maps, breathless reporters, feelgood stories mixed with action-packed victories. None of the gut wrenching realities of young guys with young families being blown to bits in their hundreds every day by the world’s most sophisticated weapons.
Even the terminology that’s used is straight from the NATO playbook. It’s not a war, it’s a special operation. Doesn’t that sound more palatable? Just like NATO’s aerial campaigns are never a question of dropping massive amounts of explosive ordinance onto cities — no-no, they are no fly zones. A war today can never be a war, it must be a humanitarian intervention, or something of that nature. While the marketing of war as something other than war may serve domestic political goals, it is very dangerous. Someday, perhaps in the not too distant future, a nuclear strike won’t be a nuclear strike at all, it will just be some time-limited unconventional self defence procedure.