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Russians Said Ready To 'Eat Less' For Putin

  • RFE/RL

"You need to just think about your own health and start eating less," said Sverdlovsk region legislator Ilya Gaffner.

"You need to just think about your own health and start eating less," said Sverdlovsk region legislator Ilya Gaffner.

Call it the Putin diet.

From a regional lawmaker to a powerful deputy prime minister, pro-Kremlin politicians say Russians are ready to eat less to support their president in the face of pressure from the West -- or should be.

With prices rising and the ruble falling as Russia's economy struggles with the effects of low oil prices and sanctions, a ruling-party lawmaker in the Sverdlovsk region says people should just tough it out.

"If, to put it bluntly, you don't have enough money, you should remember that we are all Russians -- we have endured hunger and cold and who knows what else," the head of the Sverdlovsk regional legislature's agriculture committee Ilya Gaffner said in a video (below) filmed during a check of prices at a supermarket in the Ural Mountains province.

"You need to just think about your own health and start eating less," he said.

Gaffner drew criticism from Kremlin foes and his own United Russia party for the remarks, which were shown on a local television channel and posted online.

But a senior government official made a similar remark at an international forum in Switzerland, saying Russians are prepared to "eat less" and endure other hardships to support President Vladimir Putin in the face of EU and U.S. economic sanctions over Moscow's interference in Ukraine.

Gaffner said that after the long New Year holiday Russians "have eaten their fill" and should "start doing sports."

Looking unshaven but well-fed in the video, Gaffner said prices have risen by an average of 25 percent in the past year -- an increase he called "not so terrible."

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov

After he speaks in the video, an elderly woman says that her son is an invalid who "is constantly asking for sugar. I have to say no because I have no money at all."

The regional head of United Russia, which is loyal to President Vladimir Putin, called Gaffner's remarks "inappropriate."

But at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said Russians are ready to make major sacrifices in difficult times and warned that the Western sanctions will only strengthen Putin.

"When a Russian feels any foreign pressure, he will never give up his leader. Never. We will survive any hardship in the country -- eat less food, use less electricity," Shuvalov said on January 23.

The Kremlin claims the sanctions are aimed at toppling Putin and has used the state media and other levers to rally Russians against the West.

The United States and EU say the goal of the sanctions is to press Russia into abandoning its aggression against Ukraine.

The comments by Shuvalov, who is believed to be one of the richest men in the government, triggered sarcastic remarks on Russian social media.

An opposition activist posted photos of Shuvalov's Moscow, London, and Austria homes to show where he would experience the hardships he described.

With reporting by AP and Kommersant
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