Moscow (AFP) – Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev urged Russians to be patient Wednesday as the ruble plunges due to falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine, and said the currency was now undervalued.
“It’s definitely not necessary to go into hysterics,” Medvedev said in an annual televised interview to sum up the year.
“Here, people just need to have patience and look at how events developed in a similar situation in 2008-2009 when the ruble weakened significantly,” he told five television channels.
“Most economists and analysts agree that at the moment the ruble is excessively weakened, that is, it is undervalued,” Medvedev assured Russians, warning that they could ultimately lose if they changed their savings into foreign currency.
The ruble has fallen around 40 percent against the dollar and 32 percent against the euro since the beginning of the year. On Wednesday it was worth 54.28 to the dollar and 67.20 to the euro at around 1130 GMT, slightly above record lows set last week.
He said that during the 2008-2009 crisis when the ruble last fell dramatically against the dollar and euro, those who exchanged savings ended up losing money as the currency subsequently strengthened.
He added that he kept his own money in rubles.
“We are in the same boat,” said Medvedev, who served a four-year stint as president from 2008 before ceding the Kremlin back to his mentor Vladimir Putin in 2012.
Nevertheless, the prime minister conceded that ordinary Russians were suffering from rising prices and that while a weak ruble benefited exporters, it was harmful to the economy in the long run.
“In the long term… it’s obvious that a significant weakening in the ruble exchange rate is not advantageous for our economy,” he said.
He reiterated the Kremlin’s official line by saying that it was not up to Russia to lift the sanctions, which, he conceded, had led the country to lose billions of dollars this year.
“We didn’t bring in these sanctions and we shouldn’t be the ones to cancel them, that is their business,” Medvedev said, harshly criticising the United States, whose current administration he said is “behaving unreasonably and unpredictably.”
“Our economy as a result of these sanctions has probably lost tens of billions of dollars,” he said, while reiterating that the European Union had also seen losses due to the sanctions.
Finance Minister Anton Siluanov had earlier said that the Russian economy was losing some $40 billion a year over the sanctions.
“According to the calculations of our economists, the European economy has lost 40 billion euros only from cancelling contracts with Russia,” Medvedev said.
“In other words, sanctions aren’t profitable to anyone… and as a rule they end in nothing.”
Germany, Italy and France are Russia’s biggest European trading partners.
Among the most high profile European-Russia deals to be hit by sanctions is France’s delivery of two warships to Russia.
Although the deal was done before the EU imposed sanctions on Russia, Paris came under intense pressure to scrap the accord, and has since said it would postpone the decision on whether to handover the Mistrals.