Beet for lipstick: Russians urged to go without for Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, chairs a Security Council meeting in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

MOSCOW: Eat less, use beetroot instead of lipstick, swap French lingerie for Russian-made cotton panties and remember that hardships are a test from God.

These and other tips are being offered to Russians by lawmakers, top policy makers and the Russian Orthodox Church as the gravity of the economic crisis sinks in and prices soar.

The country pulled through great hardships before, officials say, and people should tighten their belts for their leader Vladimir Putin and a great Russia amid the confrontation with the West over Ukraine.

“I lived both under Gorbachev and Yeltsin but Putin is the first president for whom I am being asked to eat less,” one Russian, Andrey Kozenko, said on Twitter. His quip would be funny if it were not sad.

Government members openly admit they lack a plan to tackle the crisis brought on by falling oil prices and Western sanctions and warn it may last for years. From affluent Moscow to the far-flung regions, Russians are feeling the pain: with some forgoing foreign travel while others pinch pennies to buy food.

Last week, lawmaker Ilya Gaffner was monitoring price hikes at a grocery store in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg when an elderly woman told him she could no longer afford sugar for her disabled son.

His advice to her? Eat less.

“If there is not enough money you have to remember that we are Russians, we survived hunger and cold, we have to think about our health and eat less,” said the deputy in the Sverdlovsk region legislative chamber, who sports a double chin.

His remarks caused outrage – and a barrage of unprintable online comments – forcing a senior ruling party lawmaker to recommend that Gaffner think twice before speaking next time.

The deputy had no sooner apologised for his faux pas than a top Putin ally told the world Russians indeed were ready for sacrifices, especially when their leader was under pressure.

“We will withstand all hardships in this country, eat less food, use less electricity,” First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told the World Economic Forum. “If a Russian feels external pressure, he will never give his leader up,” said Shuvalov, who is believed to be one of the wealthiest government officials.

Patriarch Kirill also called for modesty as he addressed millions on Jan. 7 when Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas.

“During crisis, we overcome evil,” the powerful head of the Russian Orthodox Church said in televised remarks. He added that those who are thinking of starting a family should not put their plans on hold due to the crisis because Russians were never rich.

“This prosperity brought on by the froth of petrodollars, it really came just recently.”

A senator from the parliament’s upper house also chimed in, suggesting that women can use natural colors from vegetables to paint their faces like their foremothers did in ancient times. “If they must use makeup on their lips – no problem there is beet, it’s natural and chemicals would not enter the body,” Igor Chernyshev, deputy head of the social policies committee, said in December.

“And our women look better in lingerie made at a Moscow factory than that made in France.”

Online newspaper said officials made it increasingly clear to ordinary Russians that the crisis was a shared responsibility. “The question is, are those who yesterday enthusiastically supported the takeover of Crimea ready to pay for it with a sharp decline in living standards?”

Whether they are ready or not, Russians now spend more on food after inflation reached double digits and the ruble lost half its value against the dollar.

According to pollsters Synovate Comcon, 55 percent of residents of cities with a population of over 1 million saved on food for their New Year’s table, up 12 percentage points compared to the first quarter of 2009 when Russians struggled with the effects of the global financial crisis.

Many say they don’t mind making sacrifices.

“Figuratively speaking, I am ready to use beet instead of makeup for my lips,” 75-year-old Tatyana Khrolenko said. “We must help Donetsk and Lugansk,” she said, referring to east Ukrainian rebel strongholds fighting Ukrainian forces.

Putin remains Russia’s most popular politician. When he banned EU and U.S. food imports in retaliation for Western sanctions in August, many reacted with bravado, saying they would get by without French cheese or Spanish ham.

But as the crisis deepens, anger grows. “I absolutely don’t trust our corrupt authorities,” said Yulia Galich, 43. “And since there’s no trust, there’s no desire to endure this. For whom? For Putin or Shuvalov?”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 26, 2015, on page 9.




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