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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday castigated the Western “empire of lies” for the brutal sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, worrying even some oligarchs, usually docile executors of the Kremlin.
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The ruble slumped to all-time lows against the dollar and the euro, trading midday at 100 rubles (83.5 at the last official rate on Wednesday). The euro was worth 109.4 rubles, against 93.5 on the eve of the invasion. A ceiling has been set at regular intervals to stop trading and thus slow the fall of the rouble.
The Russian currency rallied a bit in the afternoon as the market calmed down.
To defend the economy and the rouble, the Central Bank of Russia raised its key rate from 9.5% to 20% on Monday morning. The Moscow Stock Exchange itself did not open, facing the risk of collapse.
Among other sanctions, the United States, the European Union and other countries have notably excluded the largest Russian banks from the international banking payment system Swift and banned all transactions with the Central Bank of Russia.
Commercial retaliatory measures were also announced, with the whole of Europe closing to Russian aircraft, largely cutting the country’s air links with the West.
“I invited you here to talk about issues related to the economy, finances,” Vladimir Putin said, according to television images of a meeting attended by Prime Minister Mikhail Michoustin.
“We had already mentioned previously (with Mr. Michoustine) this theme, I mean these sanctions that the Western community wants to impose on us, the one that I nicknamed the empire of lies”, he said.
He received the Minister of Finance Anton Silouanov, the CEO of the main bank of the country Sberbank, Guerman Gref and the President of the Central Bank Elvira Nabioullina.
The latter said it was adopting measures to “prevent non-residents from taking their assets out of Russia”, assuring that the Russian system replacing Swift, SPFS, was open to foreigners, that the Central Bank would be “very flexible” because of the situation and that the Russian banks had “preserved all the means and accounts of the customers”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously acknowledged that Western sanctions to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine were “heavy” and “problematic”, but assured that Russia had “the necessary capabilities to compensate for the damage.
Focused on its economic response, the Kremlin has yet to announce any large-scale reprisals.
“The measures taken (…) reduce volatility”, comments to AFP Alexei Vedev, analyst at the Gaidar economic institute. “The uncertainty is enormous and the Central Bank is acting with good reason.”
But some Russian oligarchs, those billionaires who made their fortune in the 1990s and subjugated by the master of the Kremlin in the 2000s, publicly expressed their dissatisfaction.
“It’s a real crisis there, and we need real crisis frameworks (…) it is absolutely necessary to change economic policy and put an end to all this state capitalism”, wrote on Telegram Oleg Deripaska, the founder aluminum giant Rusal, which has been under sanctions for years.
He said he was waiting for “clarifications and clear comments on economic policy for the next three months”.
For Sergei Khestanov, an adviser for macroeconomic issues at Open Broker, Russia can still see things coming, however, because its main foreign currency resources, exports of raw materials, are not affected by the sanctions.
“As long as there are no real sanctions on Russian exports, and above all oil and gas, there will be no disaster,” he says, but “people will of course feel it” effects.
Some Russians already preferred to withdraw their savings from the banks.
“I knew there would be a crowd. I want to withdraw cash, keeping it at home is safer, we have absolutely no idea what will happen,” said Svetlana Paramonova, 58, a resident of St. Petersburg who came to withdraw her savings from her account.