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Russian Economic Crisis Disrupts Daily Life

As a blizzard brought snow to Moscow on Thursday, the usual Central Asian migrant street-cleaners were missing — the latest sign of the Russian economy’s woes.

The falling price of oil, together with pressure from American and European sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine, has caused Russia’s ruble to drop wildly in value over the last month. Now many are unable to buy basic goods.

Many of the migrant workers who would normally be clearing snow have returned to their home countries, including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and others.  Earlier this month, The Moscow Times reported on the effect Russia’s flagging economy had on Central Asia’s former Soviet republics. In countries where many rely on remittances sent home by relatives in Russia, some are predicting a reversal of economic growth for 2015, and a serious risk of social upheaval.

In his traditional end-of-the-year press conference last week, President Vladimir Putin downplayed the effect of Western pressure, instead stressing the need to eliminate corruption and diversify the Russian economy. Nevertheless, he urged Russians for what may be a long road ahead. (RELATED: Putin Discusses Love, Money And Ukraine In 3-Hour Q&A)

Putin also ordered a cap on national vodka prices on Wednesday, in a move to shore up his popularity with an electorate that previously viewed him as a source of national strength and prosperity.

Despite widespread perceptions that  Putin’s foreign policy, together with Kremlin-abetted industrial cronyism, helped create the currency crisis, the president’s approval rating remains over 80 percent.

Russians have responded to the uncertain economic times with a mix of humor an desperation. One website offers relaxing music and stock footage of nature, alongside live feeds of the ruble-dollar and ruble-euro exchange rate, and the price of oil.

A parody site gives the price of the staple buckwheat kasha, or “grechka,” alongside these reassuring words: “Relax! Today you have grechka. There is grechka today, and there will be grechka tomorrow.” As Bloomberg News puts it, grechka is “the perfect crisis food” in Russian culture.

Besides buckwheat and other foods, the electronics market has been especially hard-hit. Stores selling refrigerators and microwaves were mobbed by customers seeking to spend their money while they still could, and Apple and IKEA temporarily suspended sales in Russia.

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