UK & World News

  • 21 July 2014, 8:03

Russians Oblivious To Growing Anger Over MH17

On a busy street in central Moscow, a well-dressed man stands yelling at the crowd: "Don't you understand? There will be a war!"

All around him, people walk by, wholly uninterested. It's a hot summer's day, they're enjoying the sun.

Save for a couple of tourists taking pictures, no-one pays much attention at all.

The friend of a friend who saw this posted the news on Facebook.

Someone responded with a cartoon of Homer Simpson holding a sign that says: "The End is Near".

There are people here who are genuinely concerned about the direction Russia is heading under Vladimir Putin, but they are very much in the minority.

Anyone watching Russian state TV (from which, according to a Levada Centre poll, an estimated 94% of population get their news) would have little idea of the weight of the international outrage building against their leader and the threat of serious sanctions to come.

Instead, they will be treated to a rundown of the "10 questions Ukraine's government must answer", and clips of Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, insisting that any accusation of Russian involvement is "unfounded" and that he "hasn't heard anything truthful from Kiev for months".

This will not surprise viewers who have spent those months listening to condemnation of the "junta" in Kiev, which they have regularly been told is controlled by fascists.

The morning after the crash, some Russian newspapers didn't even cover it.

The official state newspaper, Rossiskaya Gazeta, decided the loss of 298 lives was not its top story, leading instead with an "exclusive investigation" into what Russians eat and drink, the fate of flight MH17 relegated to the bottom of the page.

So there is no real outrage, no clamour for Mr Putin to act, no widespread fear that under his leadership Russia could be about to become a pariah state.

On the contrary, Mr Putin's approval ratings are at an all-time high.

After the annexation of Crimea, his popularity hit 83%.

For all of the stern diplomatic dressings down he received, in Russia it was a genuinely wildly popular move.

But those inside the Kremlin also know how precariously Russia's economy is poised, and how rapidly that popularity could evaporate if sectoral sanctions are applied, hitting the oil and gas revenues on which the Russian books depend.

Mr Putin's presidency has coincided for the majority with an increase in living standards, an influx of western technology and designer goods, the ability to enjoy holidays abroad.

But for all of the projection of Russia's military might of late, its economy is starting to look quite fragile, with growth grinding to a halt, and an estimated $75bn worth of capital leaving the country so far this year.

Mr Putin knows real biting economic sanctions could hurt Russia, and him personally.

But he knows it will hurt Europe too.

The question now is whether he really believes European leaders will follow all their words with any meaningful action.

Advertisement