Ordinary Russians are not yet feeling the sanctions, but they will be hit hard in the months to come. Such a view is offered by a Czech executive who has lived in Moscow for ten years and runs a company that imports Czech products into the country.
Despite his recent return to the Czech Republic, he asked us to remain anonymous for his own safety.
How can you get from Moscow to the Czech Republic today?
That works. There are several air connections between Europe and Russia, I used the route through Istanbul, but it also passes through Dubai or Kazakhstan. The trip, which took less than three hours, will now take all day. Otherwise, there are no complications – except that the tickets are extremely expensive.
There are few flights and high demand. I flew from Moscow and other people confirmed to me that many Russians, especially young people, disappeared from Russia. Next to me sat a computer scientist who works for an American company and who flew with his girlfriend to Turkey.
I also noticed that the owner of a Russian IT company who worked for a western company paid all his employees a ticket to Montenegro and from there they operate. They fear that the Internet will be cut off in Russia.
Why did you come back now? Was it a difficult decision?
I didn’t leave right away because I’m in charge of the company I run in Moscow. I have a responsibility not only to the owners, but also to the employees who did nothing wrong. They are Russians working for a foreign company. I will now run the business remotely.
Of course, there was also a group of Czechs in Moscow who immediately wowed him. But many Czechs stayed and are not going to leave yet. They have a job there, a business, they have been operating in Moscow for a long time and at the moment they are not in immediate danger.
What is ordinary life in Moscow like now?
Until I left, I noticed a mostly downgraded mood. People say: Yeah, they’re really fighting somewhere, it’s annoying that something like that happens. So far, there has not been a sharp rise in food prices, but many locals are wondering what to buy. People aren’t buying much more basic necessities.
How do Western corporate sanctions and withdrawals affect Russians?
The effects of the sanctions will not be felt for several months. In Moscow, I noticed that people panic a bit, withdraw more money and run out of ATMs for a short time, or there are limits. Before leaving I went to the bank and the ATMs were empty, but the next day the money was back.
So no big deal?
The big problem is certainly the transfer between Russia and the West. The companies have no way to pay for the goods and no one will logically supply them. Of course, there is also a problem with the delivery of the goods. We still have something in stock, but when it does, we won’t get anything else.
Otherwise, the effect of sanctions is not immediately visible. Of course, if McDonald’s closes its branches, it won’t be there, but the consequences will be felt in the coming months, and I think they will hit Russia very hard.
Can sanctions support Putin’s position in the country accordingly?
It’s a very difficult answer to that. Russians are used to biting and punishing. The protests are suppressed and I think they will have no choice but to endure the sanctions. I fear they will join Putin in the final.
Everything is based on the fact that many people here say: we did nothing and only NATO approached us. I see views and opinions on both sides and it’s very complicated. Moreover, we are not talking about Russia, but about Moscow. The vast majority of Russians, small towns and villages, do not solve this in my opinion. They may have noticed that there is a war somewhere, but otherwise they don’t solve it. I have no illusions.
How will the war affect your business?
Many companies that produce here have already left and are preparing to nationalize the property they have here. We are importers, but if we don’t have the ability to import here and pay our suppliers, the business will end. There is no other way. We carefully evaluate what’s new every day. Of course, the ruble exchange rate, which has fallen terribly, is also a huge problem for us, and the importer crushes it incredibly.
How do you experience it personally, as a manager?
Very bad. I hung on to the onset of covid, which jammed the store. The end of 2020 was already looking good and last year it was a rebound, we had a lot of success, we are in millions of euros in turnover and then suddenly such a disaster happens day by day. Nobody expected that. Of course, as a manager, I have to adapt, we can only do the maximum. For now, that means trying to sell what we have in stock – and see what happens next.
Will you return to Russia?
Many things can be done remotely, but not everything. If I see that it makes sense to come back, yes. Personally, I’m very sad. Of what is happening in Ukraine, but also in business. Russia may not be such a big market for us at first glance, but I always thought it had great potential.
Moreover, I feel responsible for our employees, they are ordinary people. I also have a lot of people there who live in Russian-Ukrainian relations, and for example the parents of a Ukrainian who lives with a Russian are in Kharkov. They’re living in the basement for the third week and they can’t even send them money from here. It is a very difficult conflict on all sides. But there is no excuse for war.