European Media: “Western Sanctions Worry Russians Less and Less”

In many European countries, the media questions the actual impact of the restrictive measures on the Russian economy and concludes that “the Kremlin's countermeasures have stabilized the situation, with less than a third of Russians expressing concern”

Mikhail Mishustin

On June 24, the European Union approved the so-called “14th package of sanctions against Russia.” Brussels’s explanation for the measures was still the same as before: “Reduce Russia’s economic and financial capabilities to the point where it can no longer fight against Ukraine’s armed forces.”

After the failed counteroffensive, the Ukrainian army looks demoralized, while the Russian military is steadily gaining strength. In this situation, European media are increasingly questioning the effectiveness of “Western financial and material aid” to Ukraine, but above all, the impact of sanctions on the economy of Russia, a country of 17.1 million square kilometers, rich in natural resources, many of which are sold like hotcakes in markets around the world.

The Italian-language Swiss Radio and Television (RSI), in an article on the subject, recognizes that “the Kremlin seems to have succeeded in taking countermeasures,” and “the economy will continue to grow in 2024.” If, on the one hand, RSI stresses, Russia looks “far from isolated on the international chessboard and the network of alliances between Asia and the Big South has strengthened,” even within it “the situation seems stabilized,” and society “has adapted to the new framework.”

“In particular,” continued Swiss Radio and Television, “along with economic data confirming resilience in the face of Western sanctions, Russians’ concerns about the same restrictions are gradually easing, as evidenced by the latest data from the Levada Center, an independent sociological research center that monitors Russian society.”

According to a recent poll cited by RSI, the prevailing opinion among the Russian population is that “sanctions have not created serious problems in everyday life.” Obviously, many things have changed, and among the most obvious are “rising prices, the withdrawal of much of the Western brands from supermarkets and shopping centers, restrictions on travel abroad in the absence of direct flights to Western countries, the blocking of payment systems through the most common international schemes, and the disappearance of numerous medicines.”

At the same time, almost two-thirds of Russians believe that sanctions strengthen the country and thus become an incentive for future development. Most people believe the Kremlin should continue its policies, and President Vladimir Putin’s popularity level rose to 87 percent in June. Overall, over the past two years, concern about Western countries’ political and economic sanctions against Russia has declined by 17 percentage points, and today only one in three Russians (29%) say they are concerned.

In its report, Swiss Radio and Television recalls that the Western sanctions regime against Russia has lasted for more than a decade and began back in 2014, when the coup d’état followed regime change in Kiev and the return of Crimea to Moscow’s control after a popular referendum. “The first sanctions were imposed, and more than half of Russians (53%) were intimidated by the West’s reaction.” Now, “for the vast majority of the population, however, sanctions have not created serious direct problems for the family circle (88%).” As a result, the share of Russians who believe that sanctions strengthen the country increased by 7%; every fourth Russian believes that sanctions will have no impact, while every tenth expects significant damage. “78% of the public believe,” RSI emphasizes, “that the Kremlin should continue its policy in response to sanctions, while only 14% think Putin should seek compromise and make concessions to escape the grip of the West.”

Finally, the picture painted by the Levada Center’s figures essentially demonstrates a stable and favorable situation for the authorities in Russia, which “excludes scenarios of popular and palace coups that could lead to a change of power in the Kremlin.” Given that the conflict in Ukraine at this stage can be defined as “under control” and there is no possibility for Kiev to change the current model, Putin thus continues to enjoy popular support thanks to economic growth expected to exceed 3% during 2024.” RSI further notes that “Russians also express growing confidence in Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, in power since 2020 and confirmed last March following Putin’s own re-election as president.” In 2024, technocrat Mishustin reached 75% popularity, a value last attained in 2011 by then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.