A View of Sanctions From Inside Russia

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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This article was written by a Russian opposition journalist under the name of Alla Tkach. They live in Russia, and their writings give us an inside look on how sanctions are actually effecting the Russian people, if they’re « working », and how people manage to live with them.

Sanctions, repression and mobilization: how Russians face them all

Joseph Borrell said that the sanctions against the Russians are working and effectively destroying the Russian economy. Meanwhile, essential medicines are disappearing in Russia. The growth of repressions is increasing: yesterday the cops raped with a dumbbell a poet who wrote anti-war poems. The Russians are fleeing Russia, and the West is closing the borders from them. So do sanctions really work? And if so, against whom?

“Our patient Julio is crying in pain. We ran out of money, ”under this heading, news was published about the financial problems of the Metelitsa organization after the imposition of sanctions against Russians. This is the only organization in Russia that provides assistance after traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

Like Metelitsa, many foundations, shelters and public organizations existed in Russia solely on donations, especially donations from abroad. Now, with the disconnection of Russian banking systems from SWIFT, the financing of many funds has actually been suspended.

For example, Mediazona, a popular opposition independent media, declared a “foreign agent” in Russia, also turned to its readers with a request for financial support: “Due to the sanctions imposed on Russian banks and the withdrawal of Visa and Mastercard from the country, in one month we lost 70% of your regular donations.”

Mediazona’s logo

But if Mediazona, which is one of the popular media, addressed such a message in its Telegram channel to almost 200 thousand people, then organizations such as Metelitsa, unknown to the general public, actually found themselves on the verge of survival.

Hitting the poorest

According to Bloomberg, half of the twenty richest people in Russia have avoided sanctions. Russian oligarchs often refer to their firms as figureheads and successfully circumvent sanctions.

Moreover, the EU is lifting some sanctions directly related to large Russian businesses. Thus, the European Union withdrew from sanctions transactions with state-owned companies involved in the export of wheat and fertilizers, as well as the transportation of oil to third countries.

However, other restrictions and prohibitions began to be introduced, gradually complicating the life of ordinary Russians. The Russian Psychological Society (RPO) has been expelled from the European Federation of Psychological Associations). International pharmaceutical companies (such as Pfizer, Lilly, AbbVie, Sanofi and MSD) will refuse clinical trials of drugs in Russia, and clinical trials in Russia are a prerequisite for drug registration in the country. This means that the Russians are deprived of many medicines.

Anna from St. Petersburg suffers from a severe form of anxiety disorder. One of the drugs that she took for many years under the name “Stresam” disappeared from pharmacies, the other “Cipralex” disappeared from the shelves of pharmacies in March and returned only in August.

“There is no information anywhere about which drug will return and which one needs to be replaced. I’m running out of the last pack of Strezam, and besides it, I have powerful side effects for all such drugs. I don’t know what I will do. With my diagnosis, it is important to choose the right drug so that there are no side effects, otherwise the consequences for me can be disastrous, ”she says.

In addition, disrupted supply chains due to the imposition of sanctions and disruption in the supply of drugs, as well as increased prices for them, left people with the need to try to switch to Russian-made drugs. But even Russian-made medicines often use active ingredients that are supplied from other countries. Anna, like many Russians, faced financial difficulties: “Both medicines and, in general, all products have risen in price. I used to be able to save from a salary of $500, but now I only have enough money for food and housing.”

Women are the first victims

Almost immediately with the start of the war, the flow of refugees from Ukraine and emigration from Russia, there were advertising offers for foreigners to “come to Russia, where electricity is cheap and beautiful girls”, as well as advertising aimed at foreigners with offers to find a “young Slavic woman”.

A picture of an ad put out on youtube saying that Ukrainian and other slavic women were “raised to respect family and traditional values”

At the same time, women in Russia have already faced the consequences of sanctions that directly affected their reproductive health. Alina (not her real name for security reasons) is a refugee and emigrant researcher who escaped from Moscow to Georgia after the war started and works there for an NGO that provides psychological assistance to refugees, including Russian refugees. She talks about the sharp increase in prices for all food and household products in Russia: “Back in March, when the manufacturers of pads announced they were leaving the Russian market, prices for pads jumped from $1 per pack to $5. Now it has become much more difficult for women to maintain hygiene during menstruation.

Despite the fact that the Russian authorities promise the import substitution of all goods and the gradual leveling of prices, so far many drugs cannot be replaced. Thus, in Russian hospitals and pharmacies there is already a shortage of drugs for medical abortion. The raw materials from which Russian drugs for medical abortion are made were supplied from France. Now, due to a violation of logistics due to sanctions, the supply of raw materials from France has been stopped, and there is no import substitution of this drug in Russia. Because of this, the availability of medical abortion for Russian women has dropped dramatically.

According to Alina, the crisis due to sanctions and the war entail problems in society that do not lie on the surface:

“The impoverishment of the population has already led to the beginning of a crisis with therapies for people dependent on hormone therapy, for HIV-infected people, for people with hepatitis. It has already appeared because of the sanctions, HIV tests have disappeared. The risk of spreading diseases will increase. The Russian patriarchal society always relegates women’s health to the background, which means that women will suffer more from this.”

No tools left to pressure the regime

Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, many Russians began to flee from Russia, as from a sinking ship. Some are fleeing the sanctions, while others are fleeing the growing repression and lawlessness against which the activists have no tools left to fight legitimately.

Alan is a trans activist and participant in the well-known group Pussy Riot. He and his family left Russia. Alan says that four administrative cases have been filed against him in the last year, all of them for activism. One of Alan’s cases from 2018 is still in the ECtHR’s queue and is unlikely to be decided before the end of Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe.

Alan, a Trans-Activist within Russia (@lejonjakt on Instagram)

The introduction of military censorship in Russia and laws criminalizing anyone opposed to the war, and Russia’s exclusion from the Council of Europe put an end to Russian political activity. Now the Russians do not have legal instruments of pressure on the authorities and the opportunity to apply to the ECHR. In addition, the Russian authorities now have a free hand, anything, to the extent that even the death penalty can now be introduced, as former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said.

However, all these years, even after 2014, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, EU countries have been selling weapons to Russia in circumvention of sanctions. Until 2020, at least 10 EU member states have exported arms to Russia worth a total of 346 million euros. These countries include France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Finland, Slovakia and Spain. These are the countries that are now imposing sanctions against the Russians.

In addition, European countries actively sold Russia “riot control equipment” – the means to suppress protests in Russia. For example, according to Investigate Europe, France, which is currently imposing sanctions on Russia, sold Russia “bombs, rockets, torpedoes, rockets, explosive charges.” European countries sold rifles, pistols, ammunition, rockets, bombs, military equipment to Russia, which Russia used at the front in the war with Ukraine.

Nowhere to run

Traveling abroad for Russians is now also complicated. President of Ukraine Zelensky said that it is necessary to stop issuing visas to Russians, and those who have already managed to leave Russia should be deported. Zelensky’s statements were heeded in the EU, and already on September 9, the European Commission on September 9 published recommendations common to EU countries on stricter visa processing for Russian citizens. Member States must also refuse to issue a visa in case of doubt as to the applicant’s intention to leave the EU territory upon expiry of the visa.

In addition, Russia banned the TOEFL, an exam that is most often required for admission by many universities and employers in Western countries. Despite the fact that the ways for Russians to the west turned out to be closed or difficult, this does not stop the “mass exodus” of Russian citizens: people urgently go to countries where there is no need to collect a bunch of documents. Therefore, people go to post-Soviet countries. Someone goes there to try to get a visa to Europe from there, someone escapes without money and any plan: the main thing is to get out of Russia. The Federal State Statistics Service of the Russian Federation confirmed the departure of 3.8 million Russian citizens from the country in the first quarter of 2022.

Alan, like many other Russians, left Russia for Georgia: “Georgia is definitely a transit point. For how long is unknown. But where will we go after Georgia is the most difficult question. Now everywhere in the first place are refugees from Ukraine, which is understandable, a little not up to the Russians. I am afraid that many Russian oppositionists will remain in a hopeless situation.”

People walking toward the Russian-Georgian border (Photo by The Associated Press)

Not only Russians

Leaving Russians are not tourists. According to Georgian Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomalauri, the number of Russian citizens remaining in Georgia has increased almost 14 times. The Russians are also fleeing to Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and which only recently in January of this year saw mass protests and the subsequent crackdown on those protests. Some Russian officials have proposed stripping citizenship and labeling as traitors those who fled the country after Russia announced a “special operation” in Ukraine.

Emigration from Russia has a huge scale and affects, among other things, the real estate market of these countries. Thus, the cost of renting real estate in such post-Soviet countries as Armenia and Georgia has increased several times (the price has increased from $200 for a one-room apartment in Yerevan to $450-500), largely due to the fact that there are very few free housing left. Organizations are being created that help Russians move, for example, Kovcheg.

The rise in prices in Russia affected not only the post-Soviet countries. Russia, like Ukraine, is an exporter not only to post-Soviet countries. Since the start of the war and the imposition of sanctions in Syria, whose government depends on Russia, the Syrian pound has already fallen by about 10% against the dollar. Many goods entering the region from Russia and Ukraine have disappeared from the shelves of Syrian shops. As a result of the war in Ukraine, 1.7 billion people in 107 countries will face food, energy and financial crises, according to a report by the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance (GCRG).

Mobilization: the reaction of society vs. thereaction of the West

A few hours after the announcement of partial mobilization in Russia on September 21, 2022, the Russians bought up air tickets to Yerevan and Istanbul. Protesters against the mobilization in Dagestan blocked the road, and some sources declared a guerrilla war against anyone who helps the mobilization. All over Russia, people are setting fire to military registration and enlistment offices. On September 26, a man shot at a military commissar in the Irkutsk region. In Ryazan, a man set himself on fire, shouting that he did not want to participate in the war in Ukraine.

Putin announcing Partial Mobilization

From Sept. 21, when Putin announced mobilization, to Sept. 26, according to the Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, more than 261,000 men of military age left Russia, mostly across the Russian-Georgian and Russian-Kazakh borders. The head of North Ossetia reports that a state of emergency may be introduced on the border with Georgia. The Russians who arrived in Kazakhstan stay overnight on the streets, in the building of cinemas.

The first reaction of Western countries to partial mobilization in Russia was from Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics: “For security reasons, Latvia will not issue humanitarian or other types of visas to Russian citizens who evade mobilization, and will not change the border crossing restrictions imposed on September 19 for Russian citizens with Schengen visas”.

Alina, a researcher on refugees and emigrants, who is now in Georgia, says that the sanctions and restrictions that the West imposes on Russia, for the most part, do not hit those who organized this war or give orders.


-Published by GoodHistory on behalf of Alla Tkach