Russia's Economic Isolation | Crooked Media
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March 11, 2022
What A Day
Russia's Economic Isolation

In This Episode

  • Russian forces continued to advance in Ukraine after diplomatic talks between the two countries failed to stop the fighting or even to reach a temporary cease-fire on Thursday. As the violence continued, Vice President Kamala Harris called for an investigation into whether Russia committed war crimes against the civilians of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian civilians face economic hardships because of the sanctions leveled against their country. Kristy Ironside, a historian of modern Russia and the Soviet Union and professor at McGill University, joins us to discuss how the war is changing daily life in Russia.
  • And in headlines: The Transportation Security Administration is extending its mask mandate on airplanes and public transit for one more month, the 2020 Census missed counting nearly 19 million people, most of them Latino, Black and indigenous people, and over 27,000 mail votes in the Texas primary were flagged for rejection.


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Gideon Resnick: It is Friday, March 11th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, the podcast that is dealing with high gas prices by turning our cars into Flintstone cars.


Gideon Resnick: That’s right, we’re cutting big holes in the floor and hoping everyone behind us is cool with us going at approximately the speed of feet.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I’m also adopting a dinosaur, but that is unrelated.


Gideon Resnick: The papers finally came through. Congratulations. On today’s show, the TSA says to keep those masks on in planes and public transportation for at least one more month. Plus, how the economic sanctions on Russia are starting to make daily life there look a little bit like the USSR again.


Prof. Kristy Ironside: The Soviet historian in me woke up the other day really wondering what decade I was in.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, more on that in just a moment.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, the latest on the Russian invasion of Ukraine as we go to record this at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night. Russian forces continued to advance in Ukraine after diplomatic talks between the two countries yesterday failed to stop the fighting or even to reach a temporary cease fire.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about what else is going on on the ground at the moment.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So over the past week, Russian forces failed to capture any major Ukrainian cities outright, but they continued to move towards the capital of Kiev from the East. However, the AP reported that the large convoy that had been outside of Kiev appeared to have dispersed, according to satellite imagery. But Russian forces have moved into smaller towns and cities, and they continue to lay siege to areas like Chernihiv in the north near Belarus and Mariupol in the south. The mayor of Mariupol described what his people were going through on Thursday as quote, “Armageddon.”


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: As we talked about on yesterday’s show, Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol earlier this week. One important update on that: a Ukrainian official said that at least three people had been killed in that attack, including a six-year old child. In addition to that, the city has continued to be pummeled by airstrikes and shelling, and the people have been cut off from access to water, food, medical supplies and heat in the freezing winter temperatures. And officials have started burying the dead in mass graves.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is really, really awful. And you mentioned those diplomatic talks failing yesterday as well. What happened there?


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So the goal of those talks was to make progress towards reaching a cease-fire or at least getting something temporary so people in Ukraine could evacuate safely. But according to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a cease-fire was never actually on the table in those talks. He actually went as far as to say that Russia hasn’t even attacked Ukraine at all. So we’re not even really dealing in the realm of reality, let alone, you know, prioritizing the innocent people here.


Gideon Resnick: Right, and let’s talk for a second about those civilians in Ukraine. What is the latest that we know on the efforts to evacuate, and those who are accusing Russia of committing war crimes?


Priyanka Aribindi: More and more people who have escaped Ukraine continue to report Russian attacks against civilians like them who are trying to evacuate. Evacuations did reportedly continue on Thursday, and President Zelensky said that 100,000 people had been evacuated over the past two days. Vice President Kamala Harris is currently in Poland. She called for an investigation into whether or not Russia committed war crimes against the civilians in Ukraine. Several other world leaders and human rights groups are calling for that kind of inquiry as well, but there are others like U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who are saying straight-up that Russia is committing war crimes. They don’t need an investigation to see what all of us are seeing. As all of us continues, we have reached the two-week mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So far, more than two million refugees from Ukraine have evacuated to Europe and other areas around the world, and over one million people have been displaced within Ukraine.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so much has happened very, very quickly. And as we follow the latest on the ground in Ukraine, we also wanted to take a look at how Russia is being impacted by its President starting this war.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, we’ve seen a trend of global corporations like Starbucks and Apple suspending their sales in Russia. Gideon, what is the latest on that front?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s really a tidal wave now. Both Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase said that they would be exiting Russia. That’s a pretty big move because it will further isolate the country from the global economy, especially as sanctions on Russia are being felt more and more each day. Speaking during a Washington Post Live event yesterday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said this:


[clip of Sec. Janet Yellen] The ruble has been in a freefall. The Russian stock market is closed. Russia has been effectively shut out of the international financial system.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So what is the Russian government doing in response to all of that?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, a couple of things. But one is Moscow decided to retaliate against the West by imposing its own ban on exports on roughly 200 goods. That list includes tech equipment, railway cars, things like that. But as of now, we’re not exactly sure how big of an impact that could end up having.


Priyanka Aribindi: Do we know how these economic sanctions will affect the Russian people?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it certainly seems like it. The Russian ruble is now near an all-time low, and because of that, prices of goods are only rising. Last week, the Kremlin issued anti-hoarding measures and price controls as people were stocking up for goods at grocery stores and elsewhere. So given all of this, we want to take a step back and hear from an expert about what this all really does mean for Russians. We have with us today Kristy Ironside, she is a historian of modern Russia and the Soviet Union, and a professor at McGill University. Professor Ironside, welcome to What A Day.


Prof. Kristy Ironside: It’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, of course. So let’s start off with a very broad question. We often talk about the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia in the abstract, but what has really been the material impact so far?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: Well, there’s a couple of different kinds of sanctions that have been applied. So the first ones that were applied went toward the banking sector. So that’s the stuff that we saw earlier this week when people were standing in hours-long lines to get money out of the ATM because they were worried that the cards were going to stop working, that they were going to get cut off from the SWIFT system, and also that they wouldn’t be able to get access to foreign currencies, especially dollars, because the ruble is tanking. And that was in response to the sanctions that were applied by governments. What’s happening now is that since that, you’ve seen an absolute exodus of Western brands, and as they’ve been pulling out of the market, things are emptying from the shelves, people are finding it harder to find products that they’ve become accustomed to, and it’s looking increasingly like Russia’s headed toward economic isolation it hasn’t seen since the Soviet period.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And we’re talking about things disappearing from the shelves as sort of one of the main byproducts of this kind of mass exodus of corporations, everything from Apple to Exxon to McDonald’s that we’ve seen. What other sort of ramifications is that going to have as time goes on?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: I mean, one of the things we’re going to see very soon is unemployment, because it’s not just that the products are disappearing. McDonald’s alone, in its press release—I read McDonald’s press releases these days—it was saying that there are 62,000 people that it employs in Russia. That’s a lot of people. And then it’s not even just the employees. Think about all of the various industries that they contract with who are there producers. So we’re going to see a lot of knock-on effects in the coming days.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Yesterday, Goldman Sachs also said that it was ceasing their operations in the country. Is that going to lead to some kind of domino effect, you know, for other banks and that whole industry? And how could that impact the whole situation?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: I would imagine so. Right now, the main thing is, you know, nobody wants the reputational damage of staying in the market right now. Some of the firms, we should be clear about this—not all of them, when they say they’re pulling out, have specified exactly what they mean by that. Because if we look at something like McDonald’s or Starbucks, they have said they’re pausing operations, so they’re paying their salaries of employees right now. How long they’re going to continue to do that? Don’t know. The other issue is that in the last 24 hours or so, the Russian government has announced tentative plans to nationalize the property and the businesses that belong to foreign firms that leave or that substantially pull out of the market. So it’s going to be very interesting going forward. That’s about the extent of what I could say. The Soviet historian in me woke up the other day really wondering what decade I was in, what century I was in. So . . .


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And to that point, how unprecedented then, is this moment in Putin’s tenure?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: It’s very unprecedented. One of the things that Putin came to power promising was that Russia was going to never have the instability, the bad days that they had experienced in the 1990s, when, you know, the ruble collapsed in 1998, when living standards were very low. Now we’re seeing very rapidly how in about two weeks’ time, he’s unraveled 30-years’ worth of economic integration. So these are quite unprecedented.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: Can we talk a little bit about the political ramifications here in, you know, people’s day-to-day, if the country is worse off? You’re saying the ruble is tanking. And this is a war that many people there don’t want to be involved in. What, you know, ramifications could this have?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: I mean, it really depends on who we’re talking about in Russia, because Russia is a huge country. Living standards and access to information, access to the outside world, it’s really unequal across the country. So if you’re somebody who’s you know, a young like 30-year old IT professional living in Moscow or St. Petersburg, this is kind of devastating to your living standards and you notice this very quickly. If you’re a little old pensioner who lives in Novosibirsk, out in, you know, Siberia, who is watching state-run propaganda TV all day long, you will have a very different reaction to things disappearing from the shelves, but also of how to interpret this entire event.


Gideon Resnick: There also have been these recent reports that Russia is at pretty immediate risk of defaulting on its debts. What would that mean for the country and for people who live there as well?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: Yeah, this is a really big issue. Its investor grade has been downgraded. The next bond coupon payment, if I’m not mistaken, is due on the 16th of March. That’s very soon. It’s looking increasingly like they’re not going to be able to pay that.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Prof. Kristy Ironside: That could have knock-on effects for their relationships with other countries that have not kicked them out yet. I mean, they have Chinese investors, I’m thinking in particular about this. About 13% of their foreign currency reserves are in Chinese currency, and if they’re not paying their investors, are they going to continue to let them have access to that? Unclear.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. And meanwhile back here at home, U.S. inflation has reached a four-decade high, and that’s, you know, not even taking into account the full scope of the rise in gas prices, all the things that we’re experiencing. How is this increasing isolation of Russia impacting us and the rest of the world?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: Yeah. I mean, one of the things we’ve already seen is that the price at the pumps has gone up. I’m in Canada, and they’ve already said that there’s going to be issues around this because they’ve stopped importing the gas and oil. People are already grumbling that it’s going to cost more to get to work, we’re going to see the cost of living go up. They’re going to be massive knock-on effects, not just in Russia, but outside of Russia as well.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: It seems like comparatively the impact in Europe itself, specifically when it comes to oil and gas, could be more extreme just because of the higher dependency. What does that mean in terms of the economy there and elsewhere?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: Yeah, I mean, you have countries in the EU like Slovakia or Austria or Germany that are very dependent upon Russian oil and gas—in particular the gas, right, because it comes via the pipeline. That pipeline that goes into Eastern Europe that was built during the Soviet period, it was the so-called “friendship pipeline” when it was all part of the East Bloc, right? Some of them have managed to diversify where they get their oil or gas from. I’m thinking, for example, of the Czechs who built relationships with the Norwegians to bypass this. But you know, it means that they’re going to see those costs skyrocket. We’re also not entirely sure how much longer Russia will continue to provide it. So the EU has said they’ll try to cut their oil and gas imports from Russia. How much longer will Russia keep sending it to them if they’re getting cut off and all these other ways? Right now, this is the only thing they can make money off of from the EU because there’s a carve out in the sanctions for them to continue to get money from it, but maybe they will retaliate and cut that off.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: Obviously it’s really difficult to assess history, you know, as it’s happening day-by-day, especially as it’s moving so quickly right now, but what could, you know, all of this, everything that we’re talking about, mean for the future of Russia and its citizens?


Prof. Kristy Ironside: Yeah, I mean, this is a very big question. Historians are really bad at speculation. It’s not what we do. We look in the other direction. So I have to hope that people will be very angry about this within Russia. And in some ways these sanctions—sanctions can be kind of an abstract thing, right, when you try to explain. The previous round of sanctions in 2014, you know, that was applied to components of, you know, certain kinds of technologies or to certain people—that’s a harder thing to understand, but not being able to get your favorite brands, not being able to, you know, go get a latte even though lattes are ridiculously expensive from Starbucks in Moscow—not something that everybody, every ordinary person could do—these kinds of things, they really sort of grind you down. And so I think in some ways, that’s a tangible thing to hold on to in terms of consequences of this war. What the social effects of that might be . . . it’s hard to say just yet, but one of the things again that Putin came to power promising was that this would not happen again. And yet he’s doing it now.


Gideon Resnick: That is Kristy Ironside, a historian of modern Russia and the Soviet Union, and a professor at McGill University. More on all of that very soon, of course, but that is the latest for now. [music] Let’s get to some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA as we call them over here, is extending its mask mandate on airplanes and public transit at least one more month past its original deadline of March 18th. Now it is set to expire on April 18th, implying that the federal government may be open to lifting it shortly after. While the CDC recommended last month that most Americans no longer have to wear masks in public, passengers on public transit are still required to wear a mask at all times. The extension comes a day after the TSA announced that it will be bracing for an influx of travel this spring, saying the travel will be close to pre-pandemic levels—that’s what we all certainly want to hear. In the meantime, the CDC will work with federal agencies to revise mask policies for public transit based on the possibility of new COVID variants—don’t you dare—case counts and more. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing yesterday that officials should take into account varying COVID risk levels across the country when drafting their recommendations for travelers—but until April, keep that mask on your face, and also above your nose.


Priyanka Aribindi: That is a critical component—above the nose, people! After April, you know, whatever the rules say, follow them. Until then, over the nose. I don’t want to see your nose.


Gideon Resnick: I don’t want to see it, please.


Priyanka Aribindi: The 2020 census missed counting nearly 19 million people, most of them Latino, Black and indigenous people. The U.S. Census Bureau outlined this in a report yesterday, which said that the count was off the mark the most for Latinos, who were undercounted at triple the rate that they were 10 years ago. Meanwhile, white people were over counted by twice the rate that they were in 2010. Any undercount is a big deal for how congressional districts are drawn, as well as how the government spreads out $1.5 trillion in federal money. There were a number of reasons for the discrepancies, from the pandemic, to the Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question. Latino advocates say that the latter specifically depress participation by people who are undocumented, even though every person in America should be counted regardless of status. And Arturo Vargas, head of Latino advocacy group the NALEO Educational Fund, told The Washington Post that he specifically blamed the Trump White House’s quote, “efforts to disrupt the census and make it as difficult as possible for Latinos to participate.” But it’s not completely over. Advocacy groups and local officials can still challenge the count in court to try and direct more federal funding towards their own communities.


Gideon Resnick: In more fucked up counting news—you’ll see where this is going—more than 27,000 mail votes in the Texas primary were flagged for rejection, according to The Associated Press. That number makes up about 17% of mail votes that were cast across the 120 counties that the AP surveyed. To give you a sense of how high the rejection rate that is, less than 1% of Texas’s mail votes were rejected in the 2020 presidential election. So the actual number of primary mail votes that get tossed will likely be lower than 27,000, but these initial reports bode poorly for the primary election’s integrity. Republican voter suppression tactics are also in full swing over in Florida, the state that is led by the Greg Abbott of the East—that is right: Ron DeSantis.


Priyanka Aribindi: God.


Gideon Resnick: There, the state legislature just approved a first-of-its-kind election police, because that is what we have all been yearning for in this country.


Priyanka Aribindi: Great.


Gideon Resnick: The bill calls for the creation of an Office of Election Crimes and Security, and would make it a felony to deliver ballots on behalf of other voters. That bill is now headed to DeSantis’s desk along with two others that he is likely to sign: the Don’t Say Gay Bill, as well as an anti-critical race theory bill, the Stop WOKE Act, both of which the Senate approved this week. These are all like fake Tucker Carlson Chyron names of things. It’s like really beyond parody sort of legislative names.


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. Every single one of them. And it is wild, and quite scary if you stop and think about it for more than five seconds.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: And finally, stories about two women who, if things keep going the way that they are, will someday hold the titles of Madam President and Madam Dark Empress, respectively: Kim Kardashian and Grimes. Kim caused controversy earlier on Wednesday with a variety interview where she said this:


[clip of Kim Kardashian] I have the best advice for women in business: get your fucking ass up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days. You have to surround yourself with people that want to work.


Priyanka Aribindi: Why is that set to piano?


Gideon Resnick: The soft piano in the background, yeah, is really putting that all together. Wow. That was bizarre.


Priyanka Aribindi: Anyways. Yeah. This line has generated rabid backlash, with many noting that Kim’s success in business and entertainment can’t be fully separated from her ultra rich upbringing. Also kind of sounded like she was yelling at us. The piano softened it a bit, but like the way she was saying it, not the best delivery, I will say. As usual, though, Kim may be the one holding the puppet strings here, because now everybody’s talking about her just a few weeks ahead of the premiere of her new reality show “The Kardashians” on Hulu. Unsure if this is a sponsored piece of content. Moving on from someone whose control over the media is iron-tight, to someone whose control over the media seems Jello-loose, the musician Grimes accidentally revealed that she and Elon Musk had a new baby.


Gideon Resnick: Surprise.


Priyanka Aribindi: According to a new profile in Vanity Fair, Grimes allowed an interviewer to visit her at her house. At some point, a baby started to cry upstairs. At first, Grimes declined to answer a question about whether her family had grown, citing a desire for privacy. But when the baby started bawling, denying it became impossible. Grimes had her secret baby daughter via surrogate during the pandemic, which is how she was able to keep her under wraps. The name of the first child in the Musk-Grimes brood, X A.I. Archangel was widely mocked, so you know that they had to go on the exact same direction. This time the new baby’s name is Exa Dark Sideræl, or Y for short.


Gideon Resnick: That’s always how it gets shortened. The thing I thought about in this story is what other options ran through her head when she was realizing that the interviewer was hearing the baby cry? Was going to be like, Oh, sorry, that’s just like a friend who’s over.


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s not my baby. Yeah, I don’t know if she knows this, but you’re allowed to do interviews literally anywhere else, aside from home. That’s actually not customary to invite us into your home.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re not talking about like high-level podcast recording here. There was no piano sync in the background or anything. This is a print interview that really, yeah, could have happened anywhere. Good call. Anyway, congrats to Y.


Priyanka Aribindi: Congrats to Y on being born.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you did it, Y. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Friday WAD squad, and today we’re doing a segment called “No Context, Bad Vibes.”


[deep voice] No Context, bad vibes.


Priyanka Aribindi: Take a listen to today’s clip:


[news clip] There are some conflicting reports coming out of this incident. Did the teacher bite the students? Did she lick them? Either way, both sides agree something happened here, and now that teacher is facing criminal charges. Toro says her 15-year old nephew was working at the school store at Bartow Middle School in October with another student. Teacher Rhonda Rice attempted to walk away with a jar of pickles. When she did that, Toro says the students tried to get it back.


[voice] She just plainly bit them.


[news clip] According to her affidavit, Rice told Bartow police that she licked the students. She didn’t bite them.


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s not better! Like what?!


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I love the excuse of like: No, no, no, please, there are no teeth involved in my efforts to get the pickles back. I am not a barbarian, I merely licked.


Priyanka Aribindi: That story is wild. That news clip came right out of the gate, with the bite. Wasn’t expecting that. That was wild.


Gideon Resnick: I loved it.


Priyanka Aribindi: That was a clip from a local NBC affiliate in Florida. As you heard, a teacher is accused of biting two students and leaving marks back in October over a jar of pickles at a campus market. She was suspended more recently. Usually we do not cover stories in the category of “area person acts very weird” but this one seemed so outside the bounds of normal behavior and so visceral and tactile that we couldn’t help ourselves. So Gideon, what are your thoughts?


Gideon Resnick: I’m really curious, like what took place immediately before trying to get the pickles and the bite/lick happened? Like, did we go straight for I’m going to lick/bite their arms in order to get the pickles away? Did we ask kindly, was there sort of like a tug-of-war situation here? I need a break down.


Priyanka Aribindi: You might need a break down. I don’t need a break down. I’m sorry. No licking, no biting. None of that in schools. Gross. No. Education. Education is what happens in schools. This is fully, fully bad vibes.


Gideon Resnick: I love the comment of “I was merely licking” and also the people that had to really sort of like, investigate this, you know, Law and Order-style, doing multiple interviews, like searching for bite marksc0151all over pickles, you know?


Priyanka Aribindi: Better been some good pickles.


Gideon Resnick: They must have been very, very good. That was No Context, Bad Vibes.


[deep voice] No context, bad vibes.


Priyanka Aribindi: One more thing before we go: are you worried about how Republican efforts to restrict voting are going to affect you at the polls? Let us know. I want to hear your questions about how to cast a ballot, find information on the candidates, and more. We will be answering them as we head closer to November. Tweet me @prearibi. Its P R I A R I B I —I had to spell that out.


Gideon Resnick: If you’d like to ask me a question, get it tattooed on your forearm. Hold it up to me and I will answer it in a timely manner.


Priyanka Aribindi: You can take a picture of it and tweet it at me.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. Yes, that’s how we’re going to do it. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, remember that there will always be another jar of pickles, and tell your friends to listen.


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just 14-syllable Musk names like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And drive around us, we’re in a Flintstone car!


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s bleak out there. In L.A., on the show earlier we were saying it was like 4.17 average. It is, I wish 4.17 in this town.


Gideon Resnick: I don’t need the gas for these feet, just the open road. That’s it. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.