The currency is plummeting and panicked residents are trying desperately to withdraw their savings from increasingly empty ATMs. Among the anti-war protesters is a large number of members of the billionaire class who are demonstrating against their beleaguered president. Questions remain about the country's ability to weather the crisis and what it might do in the face of imminent disaster.
This is not Ukraine being under siege. It's Russia blowback.
Few people could have predicted that President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine would have such profound consequences for the Kremlin, and the Russian people.
It has not only drawn the expected barrage of Western sanctions but it has also triggered boycotts of Russian sponsors from Western businesses. This includes countries closing their airspace for Russian planes, and international sports and entertainment events freezing out Moscow's rivals.
Russia became a pariah almost overnight.
After losing 40% of its value Monday, the ruble (its currency), fell to record lows. shares plunged so much that trading on the Moscow Exchange was halted for three straight days. The Institute of International Finance, a lobbying group for banking, warned that Russia may default on its debts for the first time in 1998.
There were clear signs in Moscow that Putin was causing harm to his people. People tried to withdraw dollars from ATMs to keep their savings from shrinking, and lines formed outside of them. There was also disruption on the subway, as contactless payments systems were shut down and people turned to paper tickets they hadn't used in years.
Marina Vinogradova (39), a Moscow-based musician, said that things are getting more expensive. She was enjoying a cup of coffee at one of the city's many malls this week. "Everyone is afraid. "We don't know what is going to happen."
She claimed that her husband was not able to withdraw dollars. She said that a friend lost her house because of the fact that savings had lost their value weeks ago.
After the U.S., Europe and Russia agreed to block Russian banks from the critical SWIFT system that handles international bank payments, Moscow hotels asked customers to pay their bills as soon as possible in case their credit cards stopped working.
Because of Putin's decades-long crackdown against dissent, it is difficult to gauge the extent of Russian public opinion. There are signs of disquiet even though Russia is a country that routinely suppresses political opposition and free speech, and where the media is controlled by Kremlin-controlled TV stations, however.
A survey by the radio station Echo Moscow found that even in this information-restrictive environment, more than a fifth of Russians said they were against the war. According to The Associated Press, the editor of Echo Moscow reported that the station was removed from the air on Tuesday for being too critical about the Kremlin. According to Russia's general prosecutor, the station was accused of spreading false information about the conflict.
Under the cover of Covid-19 safety, protests are further restricted. However, protests have been ongoing by thousands across the country against the invasion. According to OVD-Info, a Moscow-based independent human rights organization, nearly 6,500 people were arrested since Thursday.
It is clear that there is strong opposition to Putin's invasion. Lev Ponomarev, a veteran human rights activist, started a Change.org petition that had over 1.1 million signatures as of Wednesday morning.
In the meantime, 6,400 doctors, 3,400 engineers, and 500 teachers signed open letters opposing the war. This is a rare statement of defiance in a country that can be arrested for merely criticizing government.
State-run TV attempted to control the narrative by downplaying the war as a minor operation confined to Ukraine's Russian speaking east. The government's communications regulator stated that it restricts access to Facebook and accuses the platform of "censoring Russian media."
However, opposition continues to reverberate into the top echelons Russian society. Elena Kovalskaya (director of a Moscow state-run theatre) quit her job because she didn't want to continue receiving a salary paid by a "killer", like Putin. Garage, a prominent contemporary art museum, stated that it would close until the "human and political tragedy" in Ukraine is stopped.
Perhaps even more shocking is the intervention of several Russian Oligarchs - billionaires who made their fortunes in the Russian state's build-up in the 1990s. Many of them have connections to Putin.
Mikhail Fridman is a co-founder and worth nearly $13 billion according to Forbes. He was also sanctioned by the European Union this week. They described him as "a top Russian financier" and an "enabler of Putin's inner circle.
Fridman, who was born and raised in Ukraine, has repeatedly denied the accusations as "defamatory" and moved Monday to distance his self from Putin's war. He addressed staff members in an open letter, saying that war is not the solution and that this crisis will cause deaths and harm to two countries that have been close for hundreds of years.
The West has sent a clear message: Russian oligarchs are no longer orbiting Putin and criticizing him . They can now party in London and Paris, and educate their children in elite Western schools.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday U.S. President Joe Biden warned the oligarchs that "We are coming to your ill-gotten gains."
All this contrasts with the mood prior to the invasion when Dmitry Medvedev (former Russian President) dismissed the West’s “woeful sanctions” as "political incompetence".
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, acknowledged Wednesday that the Russian economy was facing a severe blow but maintained that there is still some safety. We will not give up.
Reporters were told by him that Putin's actions have received a lot of support and that this gives the president strength.
Putin is under pressure both at home and abroad. Putin is facing pressure at home and abroad as the invasion progresses slower than expected. He has increased his bombing of civilians in Ukraine and threatened the West by nuclear war. This could also threaten many of Russia's 144million people.
One man aged 31 said this week in Moscow, "F--- Putin! F--- the War!"
He said that "we are afraid that he could start a nuclear conflict," but declined to name him out of fear of being retaliated by Russia's security service. "I believe he can because of his insaneness."