Traveling to Russian-friendly or Russian-agnostic countries is likely much more expensive than before as ordinary Russians flee sactions and escape where they can.
Ordinary Russians Struggle With Crippling Global Sanctions
Headlines of oligarchs losing their assets don’t tell the full story of the effect global sanctions against Russia are taking on the ordinary citizenry. The United States’ response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a collaboration of government officials from the European Union in particular and across the globe to isolate the Russian economy, especially Russian banking, and target businesses with an investment in Russia.
These actions have had a significant effect on ordinary citizens who are not a party to the decisions of the Russian government. It’s left those upwardly mobile and flexible enough to leave the Russian Federation doing just that. Particularly, those working remotely and especially in technology can no longer access the global financial institutions that allowed them to support themselves. Far from a precision effort targeting simply designated persons of influence or Russian foreign ministers, the effect has been felt everywhere.
Economic measures that were sold as punishing oligarchs and (later) President Vladimir Putin and (much, much later) his family members were broad and negatively affected those who do not have the resources nor ability to conceal financial instruments and ride out any punishment. A UN resolution against the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity resulted in 141 votes to stop the action, 35 abstentions, and just five against by Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria.
However, the resolution was mostly toothless as Russia has a seat on the security council and would block any material attempts against their own war.
Neighboring Countries Absorb
Those who can flee Russia, appear to be doing so. In Yerevan, Armenia restaurants are packed along sideways as spring flowers bring local sorrows. Neighboring countries are struggling to absorb the influx of Russian nationals who still retain their ability to travel to many countries but especially former USSR states.
With heavy crowds and a dynamic workforce that is eager to earn, pressure is put on local workers to retain their roles as Russian workers grab cash where they can.
Countries that abstained from voting or have yet to impose sanctions against the Russian Federation find themselves in a precarious position with their own citizens as they avoid a precarious political situation with a neighboring behemoth that could set sights on them next.
“On February 28, the Russian Central Bank banned the export of dollars by foreign citizens from Russia. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are heavily reliant on labor remittances sent home by migrant workers in Russia. The pressure on the ruble, banking restrictions on foreigners and — in the long run — the collapse of the labor market in Russia will have an immediate and profound economic impact on Central Asia.” – USIP
Remittances, movements, and investments either pulled or suspended in these countries that find themselves greeting Russian nationals at the airport every day further obfuscate an already complex situation.
Travel Costs, Normal Costs Soar
Those fleeing Russian sanctions fill flights, boats, trains and taxis as they enter friendly or neutral environments. While the entire world is feeling the squeeze on energy sectors, these havens for Russian citizens find immense pressure on other aspects of the economy. The owners of local businesses love the immediate and powerful return of pre-pandemic economic activity, but locals in “host” countries who patronized those businesses and now find “no room at the inn” are growing in their resentment.
Hotel prices in Armenia, for example, have stayed mostly level but longer term stays in Airbnbs and even apartments have doubled in price. Flights have surged in price as Russian visitors arrive, but also travel throughout areas where they’d be restricted by flyover restrictions but can move freely to Paris, for example, so long as they depart Tblisi or Yerevan, rather than Moscow or St. Petersburg.
Inflation that had already impacted the world following the pandemic had not yet hit the rates the US has seen (highest in 41 years) but may leapfrog in places that find this jump in visitors. Smaller states like Georgia and Armenia simply do not have the capacity to absorb an extended stay by their new tourists who appear to be settling in for an extended duration.
Russian nationals that have no part in the decision-making process to invade the sovereignty of Ukraine and operate a war the world had been clear it’s against find themselves seeking their own kind of shelter from the torrent. However, Russians fleeing sanctions that prevent them from performing their work, providing for their families, and sending remittances abroad negatively impact those far outside of Putin’s inner circle. This pits sympathetic or even neutral neighbors and their people (many of whom were born as citizens of the USSR) fighting for their own livlihood, housing, and battling inflation costs to no fault of their own.
It’s easy to support sanctions against Bond-villain billionaires, but when those sanctions affect ordinary Russians and those who are completely outside of the conflict, perhaps it’s worth re-examining the entire approach.
What do you think? Should ordinary Russians be held to account for the actions of their leadership? What about neighboring republics and its citizenry? Should an apartment owner take less than available on the market to sell to a local? What is a local to do when competing with moneyed Russians?