In Response to Putin, Western Leaders Hope To Make The Man An Island
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Russian markets and businesses are reeling from Western threats and sanctions - they're a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's stance toward Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. But ordinary Russians are closing ranks behind their president. And many Russians tell NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, the U.S. should expect even more pushback against the West.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Just how much Russians love Western imports can be seen at Tsvetnoy department store in the Russian capital. A variety of French perfumes are for sale here, as are American designer jeans and high-end kitchen appliances. But as much as Russians embrace their trade with the West, they are prepared to give it up before giving in to U.S. and EU demands over Crimea, says Dmitri Trenin, who heads the Carnegie Moscow Center.
DMITRI TRENIN: The ordinary people are not asking the question how much it will cost us. I think that many of them are quite prepared to suffer if that means that Crimea will be forever integrated into the Russian Federation.
NELSON: Trenin explains most Russians believe Putin righted a historical wrong when it comes to Crimea because they feel the peninsula should have been made part of the Russian federation when the Soviet Union ended nearly a quarter century ago. One Russian who feels that way is a 30-year-old massage therapist who only gave his first name, Sergei.
SERGEI: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: He is adamant that the return of Crimea not be part of any future talks between Putin and the West. Crimea will stay in Russia, he says.
SERGEI: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Sergei adds, sanctions are the path to nowhere. Law student Vladislav Fedotov agrees. He and other Russian protestors took turns over the weekend standing silently in front of the U.S. embassy while holding up a sign that read: Sanctions against Russia are sanctions against me.
VLADISLAV FEDOTOV: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Fedotov says everyone who passed by on foot or in a car signaled their approval. Some gave him a thumbs-up or shouted the Russian equivalent of 'atta boy. Fedotov adds, it's nice to feel that all Russians stand with us. Analyst Trenin says most Russians stand by their president as well.
TRENIN: Clearly, President Putin has become even more of a national champion than he was for many people before. His popularity has soared to over 70 percent, a 10 percent jump in just one month.
NELSON: That support hasn't wavered, despite sanctions taking a toll on ordinary Russians in recent days. The protester Fedotov, for example, was one of about 5 million Visa and MasterCard customers who couldn't pull money out of their Russian accounts over the weekend. The credit cards are American companies that by law must abide by U.S.-imposed sanctions, which in this case targeted shareholders in four Russian banks.
DMITRY KALANTYRSKY: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Dmitry Kalantyrsky, the chief executive of one of those banks, SMP, told reporters today that his bank sought relief from the Russian central bank after depositors learned of the sanctions and drained $248 million from their accounts. Analysts predict Russian suffering could worsen as Western pressure to isolate Putin grows.
But most of the Russians NPR interviewed here in Moscow said they hope Western leaders will sit down with Putin and come to some sort of agreement. One is Natalia Orlova, a 24-year-old protester at the U.S. embassy.
NATALIA ORLOVA: In these dialogues, we can find way of cooperation in future. And I think that we are not enemies. Of course, we are not enemies, I think.
NELSON: Such talks appear a long way off as President Obama and other world leaders meeting in The Hague seek to further isolate Putin. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.