Concern but no panic yet on Moscow's streets

Russia hikes rates amid currency crisis
Russia hikes rates amid currency crisis

On the streets of Moscow there's no outright panic about the currency crisis. At least, not yet.

But there are unmistakable signs of concern.

At a discount supermarket in the suburbs of the city, one shopper told CNN how the price of food had doubled.

Another worried about how Russia would pay for Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in a popular move earlier this year.

The ruble's slide was hastened by Western sanctions imposed over Ukraine, and has turned into a rout as oil prices have collapsed.

President Vladimir Putin has slashed government spending on everything except the military. Doctors and teachers, angered by the budget cuts, spoke out against Putin at a rare protest last weekend.

Related: Russia's slide toward economic crisis - and why it matters

"He has no money for hospitals and schools," one protestor told CNN. "But he has money for war in Ukraine".

That may still be a fringe view. After all, opinion polls still put Putin's popularity at over 80%.

But Russia is at the start of what threatens to be an extremely painful period of economic hardship, and criticism is growing.

Despair could turn into discontent.

Already some opposition activists are predicting Putin's end.

But in recent, defiant statements, Putin continues to blame the West for Russia's problems, and has shown no sign of relaxing his grip on power.

In the face of international sanctions, he has been uncompromising. He's even been accused by Western leaders of stepping up support for pro-Russian rebels, something Moscow denies.

A big risk now is that Putin will once again attempt to demonstrate his resolve, even in the face of economic meltdown. There are plenty of unstable hotspots in the former Soviet Union where he could assert national pride.

If the economic turmoil does weaken Putin, and Russians turn against him, it's very unclear what kind of leader would emerge to replace him.

The idea that Russia would choose a liberal, democratic idealist, sympathetic to the West, may prove just another fantasy.

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