Russia is feeling the effect of crushing Western sanctions and disruptions to food supply as citizens are forced to wait in long lines to buy basic goods such as medicine, sugar, pasta, bread, eggs, and other basic necessities.
For some, this “new normal” in Russia is reminiscent of a darker time, back when the iron curtain stood tall between Russia and Europe and the country went by a different name: the Soviet Union.
Inflation has sent the price of basic goods skyrocketing. The cost of food in Russia increased 11.46% in February compared to the previous year.
In a single week, the price of sugar increased by 37% in some Russian supermarkets, and around 14% on average across the country. Consumer prices rose 1.93% since 18 March, down slightly from the week before, according to the Russian Federal Statistics Service on Wednesday.
Russia’s currency, the ruble, has plummeted since military forces launched their attack on Ukraine on 24 February. On 7 March, the ruble hit all-time lows with 1 Russian ruble buying just €0.0061 – down from €0.011 on the eve of the invasion.
As a result of this macroeconomic catastrophe for Russia, citizens have resorted to panic buying, hoarding supplies of staples such as buckwheat, rice, sugar, and other products. The price of sugar went up 14% this week, onions 13.7%, tomatoes 8.2%, cabbage 6.4%, carrots 5.5%.
The central bank of Russia is now predicting inflation to reach a staggering 18.3% in March. A volatile and largely worthless currency, mixed with low domestic demand and high prices, will likely continue to drive up prices.
Impact on the ground
Russia’s economic woes are now being seen on the street. Long queues are forming and many sought after products have simply disappeared from the shelves. In an account for the Guardian newspaper, Russian citizens recount queuing up to an hour and half for sugar, sharing information between each other about where to find goods that are in low supply.
Sugar has become the centre of huge panic buying and hoarding, over fears that it could soon disappear from shelves entirely. The Russian government recently banned the export of white sugar and raw sugarcane to other countries.
Videos posted online of Russian citizens fighting to snatch up bags of sugar have fuelled a cycle of panic buying, leading to empty shelves.
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One Russian blogger from St. Petersburg recently noted that, at his local supermarket, the price of milk had increased by 45%, 63% for fish, 37% for pasta, and 10% for onions since the start of the war.
The Russian government has so far declined to implement maximum pricing on certain basic foodstuffs, but experts have warned that the government may resort to draconian measures to protect the economy.