Press review Critical East

Cracks in the Russian facade

Russia's infrastructure is crumbling, its people are becoming poorer, and crises are piling up. Paulina Siegień of Krytyka Polityczna sheds some light on events across the EU's eastern border for her review with Display Europe.

Published on 30 January 2024 at 15:37

Will eggs bring down Putin?

This question reminded me of the old tale about Kashchey the Deathless, a character in Russian folklore. Kashchey kidnaps princesses, and the hero, Tsarevich Ivan, must rescue them by killing Kashchey. The key to breaking Kashchey's immortality lies in an egg hidden in a series of nested objects. When Tsarevich Ivan finds and breaks the egg, Kashchey dies. The hero returns in triumph and lives happily ever after with the princess.

Vladimir Putin's death-defying policies make it easy to identify him with Kashchey, and Russia's ongoing "egg crisis" brings to mind the folk tale. The price of eggs has risen sharply in Russia, by several tens of percent in the past year. In some regions people have been complaining about the associated shortages, posting pictures of empty shop shelves on social media.

Putin has blamed the price spike on rising incomes. This is wishful thinking typical of Kremlin propaganda. It is summed up by a favourite phrase of mine, "Путин поручил разобраться". Roughly: Putin gave instructions to embrace the problem.

On The Insider magazine, Marina Dulneva has taken a close look at the egg issue and asked experts and producers for their own explanations.

First, it seems that sanctions are indeed making egg production more expensive. Feed, antibiotics and other magical concoctions that make hens productive – all these used to come from the West. Now they arrive in Russia through so-called parallel imports, i.e. via third countries. This means higher costs.

Second, the hatching eggs, from which hens and chickens come, were also mostly imported. The life cycle of a laying hen is about 18 months to 2 years. So it is only now that the deficit is becoming apparent.


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For Russians themselves, eggs have particular significance because they are a source of cheap protein to replace meat, which fewer and fewer Russians can afford.

A fourth factor might be added. Whenever egg prices are discussed, a representative of the food industry will chime in that eggs are the only product that cannot be counterfeited. For example, many food shortages can be covered up with palm oil, but one cannot make an egg out of palm oil.

The reality is that Russia is facing a gathering crisis as a result of its war. This fact is not shown by indicators such as GDP or inflation, since the Russian economy is being primed by huge spending on the war. But, as Holod reports, independent experts agree that this economic model is unsustainable and that 2024 will be a difficult year for Russia.

Russian infrastructure is crumbling without the help of bombs

But it is not just eggs that bode ill for Russia.

For the second year in a row, Russian propaganda is feeding people with schadenfreude-saturated images of Europe freezing without Russian gas. Missiles are being fired at Ukraine's heating infrastructure so as to freeze out the unruly Ukrainians by more direct means. But for now, and despite their reputation for winter hardiness, it is the Russians who are freezing.

In a number of Russian cities tens of thousands of people are freezing in their flats due to broken-down boilers and burst water pipes, Novaya Gazeta Europe reports. Ordinary Russians are warming themselves by the coal ovens in their backyards, or seeking refuge with family or friends.

Russian infrastructure is collapsing of its own accord, from simple lack of maintenance. It is a poor performance for Putin's gas empire, his land of social and economic stability.

It turns out to be tough to invest in district heating systems when hundreds of millions of dollars are needed for each new missile attack on Ukraine. And the Kremlin has its priorities.

In short, Russian infrastructure is dilapidated, its people are living poorly, and crises are piling up. Putin is old, his political system is inefficient, and violence is returning to the homeland from the front. The war has become a clear reflection of the country's colonial structure. The year has started poorly for Putin; it would be nice if his regime did not survive it.

Belarus: a new wave of political repression

As Russia grapples with winter, a new wave of violent repression is sweeping through Belarus. In recent days the regime's security services have been rounding up the relatives of political prisoners. Belarusian NGOs and émigré politicians believe that some 150 people have been taken away.

One of the reasons given for the detentions is that families of political prisoners – and some ex-prisoners who have since returned home – were receiving financial assistance from Belarusian organisations based abroad.

In reality, this new wave of repression can be linked to the upcoming elections in Belarus, which paradoxically will have no political significance. Writer Anna Zlatkowskaja believes this crackdown is another attempt to kill off solidarity in Belarusian society, by simply criminalising it.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian portal Zerkalo writes that at least 200 people were detained in 2023 after returning to Belarus. The regime is using both carrots and sticks to lure emigrants back. It promises them safety in exchange for expressing remorse for their criticisms of the regime and their participation in the protests. And in the meantime it is making it impossible for them to manage their property from abroad and to obtain official documents at Belarusian consulates.

For anyone who has made a single critical comment against Aleksandr Lukashenka, let alone organised any action or initiative, it is dangerous to be in Belarus. But political exiles are left in a terrible situation, especially if their family remains in Belarus. 

Poland: The defeated right is refusing to give up

The pro-democracy coalition that won Poland's October election is grappling with the legacy of eight years of rule by Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his cronies.

As Grzegorz Sroczyński points out in Gazeta.pl, it was never going to be easy to rehabilitate a country whose checks and balances have been systematically dismantled and where the president himself remains a hostile actor. Polarisation is getting worse, notes Jakub Majmurek in Krytyka Polityczna, creating an atmosphere of gloom and raising concerns about the viability of Poland's institutions.

One symbol of this culture war is the case of two MPs of the formerly ruling party, Mariusz Kaminski and Maciej Wąsik. The pair received two-year prison sentences for procuring false documents a dozen years ago when they had been instrumental in creating the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau. From the outside, their detention looks like a comedy of errors. Up close, however, it appears more to be a sad case of political chicanery, with the incumbent president protecting crooks because they happen to be his cronies. The story has shown that neither the law nor good political manners matter where this party’s interests are at stake.

Unfortunately, this may be the face of Polish politics until the next presidential election in 2025. That will be the first chance to choose a head of state who will support the ruling coalition instead of wilfully sabotaging its actions for narrow party-political gain.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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