Ruble Woes

12.18.14 11:20 PM ET

After His Disastrous Annual Press Conference, Putin Needs A Hug

Putin’s press conference today gave no solutions for Russia’s plummeting economy—but he did spend a lot of time talking about bears.

Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference disappointed many in Russia, despite the fact that his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, had promised the announcement of some “special measures” to save the economy. But nothing of the sort happened during the three-hour event—nor did Putin dissolve the parliament or announce a visionary plan to stem the ruble crisis, as many had expected he would.

Instead, the president suggested Russians would wait for oil prices to grow, and expressed hopes that the national currency would somehow become stable. “Is it possible? It’s possible,” Putin declared in his firm and self- confident manner.

Putin may very well be the last optimist left in the country, which is facing a time of confusion and disappointment. For days, the ruble has been falling and salaries shrinking; shoppers have rushed to snap up TV sets and washing machines. On Thursday, Russian bloggers published pictures of empty shelves in stores that once sold electric goods.

A prominent political observer and professor of National Research University Higher School of Economics, Vladimir Ryzhkov, summarized Putin’s statements for The Daily Beast: no plans for new reforms, no radical changes of staff or re-appointments. Not a word mentioned about the crazy growth of prices and public poverty. Why did Putin not give Russians any comforting promises? “Because he is waiting for oil to become expensive again, and everything to go back to normal soon. He does not have a clear understanding of how deep the crisis is—that’s why he is afraid to make any abrupt moves,” Ryzhkov said.

Meanwhile, Russia is sinking ever deeper into its economic morass. NS Group, which manages Calvin Klein, Armani Jeans, Michael Kors, and TopShop chain stores in the country, stopped buying clothes because the currency rate for dollar and Euro was “unreal,” Vedomosti newspaper reported on Thursday. Foreign banks were keeping their distance from Russia in fear of losing more money, and Belorussian president Aleksandr Lukashenko demanded to that Russia switch its payments for Belarusian goods from the ruble to some other, more stable currency: “We should have been long ago working and demanding from them, so they would pay us in solid currency—in dollars and Euros,” Lukashenko said.

In his article “The End of Putin as an Economist,” on slon.ru, an online newspaper, Aleksander Baunov explored the question of when Putin had misunderstood the economy. “Maybe it happened during the first crisis in 2008, when it turned out that no economy growth, no investment attractiveness, helped to break the situation in his favor.” Today, addressing an audience full of Russian and foreign journalists Putin seemed to be talking to himself.

Once again he accused the West of being unfair to Russia, bringing back his favorite metaphor, the Russian bear. “It is not about Crimea, the West wants our skins hanging on the wall,” he said. “Sometimes I think, maybe they’ll let the bear eat berries and honey in the forest, maybe they will leave it in peace.”

“Maybe our dear bear should sit quietly, not chase piglets and just eat berries and honey.”

Putin suggested that all the West wanted was to turn the Russian bear into “taxidermy.” “Maybe then he will be left alone?” “They won’t give up because they will always try to chain him,” Putin said. “And as soon as they chain him, they’ll rip out its teeth and claws, and the dear bear won’t be needed anymore.”