“The Russian economy has suffered very seriously, but the authorities maintain the illusion of total control,” the expert says.

Anna Kolin-Lebedeva, a professor of political science at the University of Paris-Nanterre and a specialist in post-Soviet societies, estimated on Wednesday, April 6, on the Franceinfo website, while new sanctions against Moscow could be adopted, that “The Russian economy has suffered very seriously, but the authorities maintain the illusion of total control.”

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Franceinfo: The West is preparing to adopt the fifth package of sanctions against Russia: how do the Russian population perceive them?

Anna Kolin-Lebedeva: These sanctions are widely covered, the media rebroadcast each new wave, rebroadcast the list of companies leaving Russia, and the sanctions against banks. The fact of knowing is rather part of the history of power: we are surrounded by enemies, and they are trying to hit us harder and harder. It’s us against them. The government anticipates ever tougher sanctions without trying to measure the real impact they will have on the population. Every day, the Russian economy is exposed to structural impacts: we know that all sectors of the economy will be seriously affected in the coming weeks and months. The products that Russians are familiar with, the services that Russians are used to, the activities that they do, will be deeply affected. So far, this is a little noticeable in large cities, but almost nowhere, except for inflation, which is still under control, and rising prices.

What is the reaction of the Russians to the sanctions?

There are Russians who are critical of the war. We are hearing voices today that are more devastated by the way the war is unfolding on the ground and the exposed massacres than the sanctions. On the other hand, those who see sanctions coming are the same Russians who receive reports that the Bucha massacre is a set-up. At the moment, the coherence of the narrative is not broken, the Russians, seeking to close their eyes or follow the official version of the facts, see themselves rather strengthened in their image. At the moment, it rather increases the hostility of the West.

Is the Kremlin blind to the opinion of its people?

Today it is impossible to know what the Russians really think. On the one hand, we cannot measure opinion in a context where any dissenting opinion can be prosecuted. On the other hand, we have very little information about how the Russians understand this war. We know that they do not necessarily trust the official media, but, on the other hand, it is not at all certain that they seek to obtain information in an alternative way.

“They rather have a vision of ‘culprits everywhere’ and no truth can be trusted.”

Anna Kolin-Lebedeva, specialist in post-Soviet societies

on Franceinfo

The Kremlin, by cutting off all channels for expressing dissent, has cut itself off from understanding what its population thinks and feels. Today, behind the facade of mass membership, we know that there is a very wide variety of perceptions of the situation. We have, for example, evidence of rather massive disagreements that happened to us before March 5, before the date of the adoption of a law criminalizing any criticism of his military actions. Today, there is obviously complete silence. The authorities themselves are misinformed about what is happening within the population, just as it seems they were misinformed about what awaits them on Ukrainian soil.

Do sanctions have a long-term effect?

The sanctions hurt, in particular, because the Russian economy is extremely dependent on European products, European technologies, European raw materials. Production will become difficult to access, consumer goods, to which the Russians are accustomed, will disappear. The work will disappear. So far, companies that have left Russia maintain the standard of living of their employees and pay them wages; but how long will it last? The effect will be. I think we should have no illusions. The Russian economy has suffered very seriously, but so far the authorities retain the illusion of total control over the situation and measured influence.

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