Russians keep calm and shop on in face of rising prices

For shoppers like pensioner Tatiana Ivanovna buying their weekly groceries in a Moscow supermarket, these are increasingly tough times. Fuelled by a double whammy of a plummeting ruble and the embargoes Russia slapped on many Western products in retaliation for sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, inflation is soaring.

Prices on meat, fish and vegetables rose by some 20 per cent last year, according to official figures, and Russian staples like cabbage have gone up in recent weeks. But, despite the steep hikes, the rising cost of living is not yet translating into panic for consumers.

"Prices are going up, but just a bit at a time and that helps us to accept it," Ivanovna told AFP "We have survived so much before, we know all will turn out fine," she said.

"We are strong and we understand how to cope with difficulties - it is in our blood." Muscovite Natalia says she does not miss the French cheeses or Italian salads that are now banned from stores in Russia.

"There is still bread and butter and that is what is important!" she said. "Average people never had much money and they won't have it now. With or without inflation we manage to get by." She admits, however, that the price of sugar - set to be raised steeply by major stores soon after already climbing 40 per cent last year - is starting to cause her some concern.

Putin's popularity

For now, the growing pain for average Russians does not seem to be turning into the anger at authorities that many in the West had hoped would be the result of the tough sanctions imposed for Moscow's meddling in Ukraine.

A poll released Friday said more than 70 per cent of those surveyed would vote for leader Vladimir Putin if presidential polls were held now, local media reported. "The majority of the population has realised that the situation is deteriorating and that the confrontation with the West is costing them dear," said Nikolai Petrov, a professor at Moscow's Higher School of Economics. "But this is not translating yet into discontent with those in power."

That, however, may just be a matter of time as the surge in patriotism generated from Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March could wane. "We are only just at the start of the process - the growth in prices, utility prices and public transport," Petrov said. "But it will take some three to four months before this starts to tell on public opinion."

The economic crisis in Russia looks set to last for a while. Although the government's official forecast has the economy shrinking by 0.8 per cent in 2015, those in power admit that tumbling oil prices could see the country's resource-dependent economy contract by some five per cent in reality. Overall inflation should hit some 17 per cent by spring, officials say.

And authorities seem to be relying on the natural stoicism of their countrymen to try to get through the turmoil. "In times of a crisis, it is important not to lose your calm," Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said this week. "The price of oil, the sanctions - all that is just temporary."