Letters From Moscow Across the Class Divide: Impact of Sanctions, Homelessness, and Sports Fanaticism

What follows is a series of emails from a comrade, HCE. He is a Russian citizen and has lived and worked in Moscow for many years. He is a Marxist-Leninist. The questions we asked him are in bold.

Dear Bruce:

Thank you for your email and interest. The subjects that you have mentioned in your questions have been in my thoughts for some time. I will try to answer them in a straightforward manner and keep things as transparent as possible. Once again, I would like to state that these are just my opinions and impressions with no pretenses whatsoever. Some of the questions remind me of my youth when I was just 15 years old and full of romantic ideas about the world revolution, of fighting on the barricades with a red flag in my hands. Then I started organizing in a working-class district and I was presented with nearly some of the same questions that you have posed. I began to understand that the revolution was about understanding many things, including nationalism and sports.

How has each of the four classes (upper, upper-middle, middle, and working class) been affected by the departure of Yankee businesses (McDonalds, Pepsi, auto, and gas companies)?

According to my knowledge, a number of the fast-food companies, although following the official US line, have left some room for maneuvering. For example, McDonalds left a two months’ salary for their employees, leaving some bridges intact. The loss of jobs in places like these would affect the working class. The shelves in supermarkets are still loaded with Coca Cola and Pepsi. But even before events in Ukraine, US fast-food has a strong competitor in the local grill in Mid East fashion. The main criteria are quality versus price and how quick you can get it and head for the job or auditorium.

There would be serious implications in the closing of plants that are involved in big projects like the auto industry, which would lead to loss of jobs for the whole spectrum, from the working class till the upper-middle class. But as far as I know the US does not have such projects in Russia. American cars are not popular in Moscow. You may see a pickup now and then. Otherwise it is Korean, Japanese, French, and German cars that dominate beside Russian cars. For the French car company Renault, their sales in Russia are second only to their French market.

All that being said, what is critical is THE OIL AND GAS companies. This is where things get murky. Let us use as an example a US oil company that owns shares in a big oil project. They may declare that they will follow sanctions, then come back the next day and declare that this concerns the operational side only. I am sure that many Americans will be surprised if they start digging to find out who are the shareholders of a significant number of Russian oil and gas companies. In my opinion the oil industry is so intricate, there are so many loopholes in contracts and legal issues that I think the sanction process will proceed slowly. This is where all the classes and the state will be affected. Please note that according to the laws of the Russian Federation, foreign companies can sell their shares only after obtaining the approval of the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation.

How have the sanctions from the US affected the everyday life of each class?

At the present, it is hard for the average Muscovite to notice any change in the daily routine of his life. The cost for food, his apartment and bills for electricity, water, internet are the same. Prices are maybe slightly higher. This is also true for clothes. The upper classes may yearn for foreign foodstuffs, and their holidays in Europe and buying their clothes from Milan and Paris, but the average Muscovite is satisfied with spending his holidays in Russia, Crimea, Turkey, and Egypt.

However, being an old hand at sanctions I know how demoralizing they can be in the long run, when the struggle for survival leaves no room for anything else. My heart goes out to all the Russian people, especially the elderly. They have suffered and been through so much. Now at last, when they should have some peace, they have to worry about every ruble of their modest pension.

Russia of course is not Iraq or Syria; it is a self-sufficient country, and in spite of sanctions, embargoes, and Russo-phobia it will not budge. There is a certain inherent flaw in the Western attitude towards Russia and Russians that I always warn westerners about; never, ever underestimate the Russians. You do this at your own peril.

My latest impression about these sanctions is that the Western governments (US, EU, Canada, Australia) are running around burning every bridge and closing the smallest door (private companies are sometimes reluctant to follow their lead) thereby creating a superficial situation that ignores the reality. It is the reality that you cannot isolate a country that possesses the largest landmass and vital raw materials and is capable of full self-sufficiency.

To sum up briefly: on a personal level the first to be hit in later stages will be the working and middle class, pensioners, and students on their own. The upper and upper-middle class may lose some of their luxuries, but I do not see them having any difficulties at all.

To what extent is there a housing crisis in Russia in terms of the cost of rent and/or the cost of buying a home?

I have to begin with a statement that seems far from rent. It has to do with the collective memory of the Russian people. They are aware that during Soviet times, the state provided an apartment after you had worked at the plant, factory, research institute …etc. for three years. Education was free, so was health care. So, in spite of switching to another system, the people have this residual memory in their mind that takes the service of the state for granted.

I do not think that there is a housing crisis in Russia. There is also something here that is rarely found in the West – namely that members of a family are willing to move over and let their children or grandchildren live with them. Grandmothers and even grandfathers are an institution in Russia. They consider it is part of their duty to take care of babies and toddlers while their parents’ work.

We have to be very specific when discussing housing and rent. Thus, we will be talking about Moscow, where salaries and rents are high. The majority of the city population live in apartments. The prices of these apartments steeply increase as you head from the outskirts to the center of the city. The price depends on the quality and area of the apartment. However, the Soviet planning of huge living complexes that include living quarters, kindergartens, schools, supermarkets. that surround the old Moscow remains in place.

What is characteristic of modern times is that large areas of industrial plants located in Moscow were closed down after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The construction companies took over the land for pennies and built living quarters and business centers in their place.

Average Rent Prices – 1USD = 75.88 rubles, as per April16/2022 for a one-room apartment is as follows.

–  “Old Moscow” around the center of the city is 111,695 rubles per month. This translates as $1,472 dollars per month.

– Middle area between Old Moscow and the outskirts is 33,024 rubles per month. This translates as $435 dollars per month.

– Outskirts 24863 rubles per month. The translation to dollars is $328 per month.

Statistics from the following reference (in Russian). https://www.mirkvartir.ru/journal/analytics/2020/02/13/rejting-rajonov-moskvy-po-stoimosti-arendy-kvartir/

(Editor’s note: average rent for a studio apartment in New York City is $3,237.)

Homes within the Moscow administrative borders are a luxury that only the super-rich of the upper class can afford. However, when moving out of this Moscow administrative circle, there are closed blocks of homes for the rich of the upper classes. When moving further away from the center we get into an area of mingled upper-class, middle-class homes as well as temporary dachas (summer houses). These were built by working class and middle-class people who got their land as a grant from the state during the Soviet period.

How much is homelessness a problem in Russia. Are the homeless concentrated in certain parts of the city? Are there enough places to house them?

Dear Bruce, since I am writing about Moscow and have lived here for many years I will continue to do so and will not generalize for a huge country. According to the official statistics of the Moscow Department of Labor and Social Protection, the number of homeless in Moscow is around 14,000. Bear in mind that Moscow’s population is 12,641,000 as of 2022. I have not seen any concentration of homeless in any parts of the city. In a megapolis like Moscow you can go on with your business for weeks without meeting a homeless person. You may find some homeless persons loitering near churches especially on Sundays or religious holidays.  Otherwise, it is not common. I found that there are 34 lodging centers for the homeless in Moscow itself and 38 in Moscow district.

(Editor’s note – New York City has a population of 18,823,000 with five municipal shelter systems for 48,413 people experiencing homelessness.)

Kindly find a link below, there is a table in detail describing each lodging center, its telephone number and the services provided, including food and medicine. Unfortunately for non-Russian speakers, the statistics are in Russian.


What kind of sports are the different classes interested in? Are there professional teams that people follow?

To end this letter, I have picked this question so as not to be too officious and stuffy and I admit the question is near to my heart.

Dear Bruce, I remember that in a number of your articles you raised the subject of how the left has not evaluated sports properly, thereby losing what could have been a strong weapon in their hands.

The sports that are popular in Russia are:

  • Soccer
  • Ice Hockey
  • Skiing and biathlon
  • Figure Skating
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial Arts, Boxing
  • Tennis
  • Bandy
  • Track and Field (athletics)

The interest in a definite sport or sports is not only according to class. That would be too simplistic. There is also gender, nationality, and the preferences of those in power. There are professional leagues in soccer, ice hockey, basketball, volleyball, handball, and other sports. There are all the attributes that go with professional sports: big money, corruption, fan clubs, and politics. Anything that you see in US professional sports has its twin in Russia. There are differences in preferences between Russians and Americans. For example, the Biathlon in Russia has a big following and you see people glued to the TV when it is on. I don’t think this is the case in the US. This is also true for skiing. During the long winter season you can see hundreds of Muscovites skiing, and there are, of course, professionals and semiprofessionals.

All classes follow soccer, but it is followed by more of the working class. There are clubs with a long history and there is very big money and political prestige at stake. In spite of this the Russian national team is below average, and the Russians throw their hands up in despair when the national team is mentioned. All that is unattractive to soccer fans all over the world is present in Russia, too. There are quite a few foreign players playing for Russian clubs, mostly mediocre, no superstars.

There is a different attitude towards ice hockey. The Russians take it as a personal tweaking of their nose if their national team loses because there is a lot of talent all over the country. It is also followed by all classes as far as I can tell. There is a professional league and it has support from sponsors and the government.

Figure skating is very popular, especially with the Russian ladies, and the skaters are household names. There is a strong movement against the domination of Russian girls. Methods are not always honest. The majority of Russian ladies from all classes are followers of the sport. I sometimes think that there isn’t a single Russian mom who hasn’t taken her daughter to a figure skating or rhythmic gymnastics coach when she was just 5 years old.

Basketball is especially popular with the middle class. There is a professional league with decent local players and quite a lot of foreign players, including African-Americans (this was before the sanctions). The African-Americans left a good impression as players and people. I watched them on TV and even went to the stadium twice. The sanctions will affect the level of basketball since most of the foreigners will leave if they have not already left.

Volleyball is a national game. You see people of all ages playing volleyball throughout the tough winter season, even on snow. There are strong Russian women’s and men’s leagues, with good foreign players coming to play. They are followed by all classes and were very popular during the Soviet period.

Gymnastics is considered by Russians as their sport, everybody else is a newcomer. The Japanese were the first to arrive to the then Soviet Union in the 1950s with their cinema cameras to take films of the Russian gymnasts. All kinds of martial arts and all types of boxing are popular with the Russians, especially for the people from the Caucasus region, Chechen, and Dagestan. There is an upsurge in these sports because they are patronized by the president.

Tennis is a sport that is followed mainly by the middle class and upper-middle class. The tournaments in Russia are not popular with top players. I cannot recall if any of them have ever visited Russia. The prize money probably is not tempting nor are the points for rating. People watch on TV the ATP and WTA games as well as the grand slams. The sport is very cosmopolitan. Probably the only time when tennis players gather as a national team is the Davis Cup and the Olympics.

Bandy is played in Russia and the Scandinavian countries. It used to be much more popular during Soviet times. There is a professional league, and its followers are mainly working and middle class. (Editor’s note – Bandy is a game similar to ice hockey.)

Track and field in Russia has been virtually isolated and demonized since some 5 years ago. I think it is important that I mention the war waged against Russian athletes by Western sport bureaucrats, the media, all the doping agencies, the Olympics authorities, and federations of various kinds of sports. This is especially true for the track and field federations. This tendency became much worse after the conflict in Ukraine. These organizations have virtually isolated Russian sports, and the way they treat a tennis or hockey player by demanding from them that they denounce their country is truly shameful.

I am sure that an American reader may wonder, “what about baseball and American football”, the two most popular games in the US? It was only in recent years that I found out that there is the American Football League. I confess that I am a fan of this game and I follow the NFL on TV. A couple of years ago I was wearing a baseball cap of my favorite team, The Seattle Seahawks. I was in the supermarket in the cashier que, and there was this huge guy staring at me. I tried to be friendly and smiled. He smiled back and pointed to my baseball cap. I asked him if he liked it, and he replied that he had one like it and that he was a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, too. I found out then about the Russian League and that he had played as a linesman when younger (he was about 40 years old). Of course, we started talking about the NFL, the woes of the Seattle Seahawks, and we became acquaintances.

Just imagine, me – a person of Middle East origin – and this Russian guy talking about the NFL in Russian together in Moscow! This is the strength of sports! And it should be utilized to bring people together, in spite of all of us being well aware that capitalism corrupts sports to the core.

With affection and respect


About HCE

HCE is a friend from Moscow of Middle Eastern origin and a Marxist Leninist.

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