x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Russians shrug at financial crisis

Russian stock fell 25 per cent in 3 days, but Russians are not running to the bank like they did in 1998 and trust Mr Putin.

MOSCOW // As the Kremlin struggles with a financial crisis, many ordinary Russians say they don't understand what all the fuss is about. Russia's main stock exchanges have been shut down after falling as much as 25 per cent in three days, and the government is pumping money into financial markets in an attempt to stabilise them.

But unlike in the United States, few ordinary Russians own stocks. And they say they have confidence in the Kremlin, which is making a concentrated effort to assure them that Russia has plenty of money to deal with the financial difficulties and they have nothing to fear. "You know a guy called Putin? He said that everything is OK, everything is under control, the situation is being dealt with effectively and no one should panic," said Roman Digomer, 31, a security guard at one of the giant shopping malls that have sprung up in Moscow in recent years. "So everything is fine. No worries whatsoever."

Digomer is not alone. Most Russians have come to see Vladimir Putin, now prime minister after eight years as president, as a powerful protector of Russian interests at home and abroad. "We're small people," said Nataliya Zobnina, 35, a shopkeeper in the mall. "I can't imagine that all this can affect us. I don't really see what all this has to do with me. I guess the only people being affected are the big players on the market."

But Putin's popularity has been based to a large extent on Russia's high rate of economic growth and steadily rising incomes. If Russia's financial troubles were to touch ordinary citizens, the stability of the Russian political system could be at risk. The only effect on most Russians so far has been a decline in the rouble, which has lost almost 5 per cent against the US dollar in recent weeks.