Sanctions, protests: How Putin’s war is impacting ordinary Russians

Hundreds of Russians have been arrested for demonstrating against Ukraine’s invasion across the country. Meanwhile, sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s economy are slowly having an impact: the ruble is fluctuating, people are queuing up outside ATMs and prices are rising. Anton Troianovski, Moscow Bureau Chief of the New York Times, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the Ukraine invasion and Russian reaction, I spoke earlier this morning with Anton Troianovski Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times.

    Anton, first, how aware are the Russian people of what is happening in Ukraine?

  • Anton Troianovski:

    So those who watch television and rely on television for their news, which is about half the country, according to polls, what they know about this war is that it's not a war. It's a "special military operation" that is focused on the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. There is pretty much nothing in the news about battles in these other cities where fighting has been going on this weekend. But the internet does remain more or less freely accessible in Russia and so on social media on independent Russian language media outlets, people see really the full extent of what's going on.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Are people feeling the effects? One of the big things that the Biden administration said is that, listen, these economic sanctions aren't going to be painful overnight, but the government and the people there will feel them.

  • Anton Troianovski:

    Yet they're feeling them already, I think it looks like they're really going to feel them tomorrow on Monday because these sanctions that were announced Friday by the European Union and the United States against Russia's largest bank, also Russia's central bank that has the potential to really throw markets into turmoil. And today we've already seen really long lines at ATMs. People really have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    If you were a Russian living in Moscow right now, do you think that life is pretty normal?

  • Anton Troianovski:

    Yeah, I think it's pretty normal. You know the bars and restaurants are still full, but the fluctuation of the ruble, the currency in Russia is a really big deal. Obviously, so many things are imported phones, TVs, wine, you know, you name it. And so the prices on that are going to be going up drastically. Russians have become used to, you know, in the middle class and Moscow, especially to be able to take inexpensive trips abroad. And that's going to become much harder, if not impossible now. So, yeah, I think for now, for now, it's still you can kind of feel some normalcy, but I do have the feeling that that will really change in the next few days.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Over the past couple of days, we also saw people in Russia, in multiple cities trying to protest what was happening in Ukraine. We also saw them being arrested. Is there discussion in the public sphere, so to speak about standing up to this?

  • Anton Troianovski:

    Yeah, there's absolutely discussion, I mean, you know, you mentioned social media being slowed down, they have slowed down access to Facebook and Twitter, but it still more or less works. Instagram, which is kind of one of the main social networks here, continues to work. And there's a ton of discussion on there, a lot of people voicing discontent, and it really feels like not that many people are voicing approval. Obviously, it is very risky to actually protest. So the fact that we're seeing thousands of people in the streets and we saw that again today on Sunday in Moscow, there were 800 arrests, but people still came out in.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This might be in the weeds for the average Russian, but when the president declares that he's sort of escalated his strategic defense posture and includes, you know, nuclear forces, what goes through the public there?

  • Anton Troianovski:

    If you watch Russian state television and you watch their news programs, they talk about the Russian nuclear arsenal quite a lot. They say things like we are the only country in the world that can reduce the United States to radioactive ash. That's a direct quote from recently. So I think in a way, Russians are used to this, especially the kind of more hawkish, conservative Russian sees the country's nuclear arsenal as kind of the thing that should give Russia rightful superpower status. And I think people are going to be increasingly afraid. The question is just what is that fear then translate to? Does that translate to people holding back and and really just sort of sitting at home in their kitchens, as they say people did in the Soviet Union? Or do you start seeing some more active movement to try to change something?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We're hearing that there might be some preliminary agreement on peace talks between the Ukrainians and the Russians. But what's the appetite there for this to be over?

  • Anton Troianovski:

    Well, I mean, again, in Russia, a lot of people don't realize there's a major land invasion happening carried out by their country, and many others do know what's happening and are horrified by it. I mean, until Thursday, I think basically no one in Russia could actually imagine a war with Ukraine, an all out war with Ukraine. It's just totally incredible to people. You know, these were two parts of the Soviet Union just 30 years ago. So many Russians have friends and relatives in Ukraine and vice versa. People want peace talks. The only issue is that Putin has laid out such maximalist demands. What he refers to is the demilitarization and de-nazification of Ukraine that it's hard to imagine. I mean, he's made it quite clear he wants to topple Zelensky's government and install a new government. So it's unfortunately hard to see these talks getting anywhere, but fingers crossed.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Anton Trioanovski, Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times, thanks so much.

  • Anton Troianovski:

    Thank you.

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