Last week, the ruble punched through a psychologically important threshold: 100 rubles to the dollar. When I left Moscow a decade ago, the exchange rate was about 30, and on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it was just under 80. When Russian tanks crossed the border in February 2022, the ruble crashed to 120 before stabilizing for months at the head-scratching low of 60 for the second half of the year. Since the beginning of 2023, it’s been creeping steadily upward, and has been scratching at the 100 ceiling for a good part of the summer.
All of last week, friends and family in the West—all vehemently opposed to the war—sent gleeful memes about the collapsing Russian currency, hoping that it was a harbinger of economic calamity for the Kremlin. But as usual, in Moscow, things looked very different. “They are even richer,” a friend in Moscow texted when I asked him how the residents of the chic Patriarch Ponds neighborhood are living through these uncertain times. “It is amazing. Never seen so many Lambos and Rolls as last year.” What about the ruble crisis, I asked? “Don’t care,” he texted. “They live in Russia, taking salaries in rubles and spend their money in Russia.”
A friend of his is an interior designer who has been freed by the war of competition. Her problem, she now says, is being able to finish all the jobs that have fallen in her lap, not getting new customers. Another friend, who works for a Russian oligarch, told my friend, “You have no idea how much money there is in Russia right now.” Said another, “Only a fool wouldn’t be able to earn money right now.”