MOSCOW — Russia’s leaders took drastic action Wednesday to combat the worst threat to financial stability in President Vladimir Putin’s 15 years in power, calling in the nation’s economic and security elite and by day’s end erasing the ruble’s losses for the week.
The efforts eased the most immediate dangers to Russia’s economy. But the nation still appeared to be heading into uncharted territory, with the rising living standards that have formed the backbone of Putin’s rule receding into memory. Even if the ruble holds steady, Russia faces a recession, steep inflation and a constrained economic future, officials say — a perilous combination that Putin has long been able to avoid.
In a sign that the Kremlin viewed the crisis not just as an economic threat but as a danger to Russia’s fundamental security, the Russian Security Council said Wednesday that it had drawn up a response plan and given it to Putin to review. The head of the council, Nikolai Patrushev, a former head of the successor agency to the KGB, did not disclose details. The body usually focuses on matters of war and peace, and it is highly unusual for it to become involved in economic policymaking.
“The government and central bank have begun working seriously on stopping this bacchanalia on the currency market,” Putin aide Andrei Belousov told Russian news agencies after Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev convened an emergency meeting of top economic officials and the heads of major energy companies.
The measures came a day ahead of Putin’s end-of-year news conference, when Russians will look to him for plans to deal with a looming recession, spiking inflation and a fall in the value of wages. The event was being heavily promoted on Russian state television Wednesday in a 40-second trailer with images of Russian triumph against the perils of the world.
Putin’s press secretary on Wednesday promised “a number of measures” in coming days to fight the crisis.
“In 2008, if you remember, Putin came out and said, ‘This is a crisis, I am assuming responsibility, and everything will turn out right,’ ” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state-run Rossiya 24 television channel, referring to the global economic crisis that began in 2008.
The Russian central bank and Finance Ministry helped fuel a soaring ruble that on Wednesday took back nearly the full 17 percent it had lost against the dollar earlier in the week. Both agencies said they would sell reserves to bolster the currency, and the central bank unveiled a package of measures to soften the impact on banks of sanctions and the ruble’s devaluation.
The measures offered reassurance to nervous Russians who a day earlier had rushed to switch their savings into dollars.
Russian leaders also have sounded somewhat more conciliatory toward Ukraine in recent days, perhaps in a bid to ease sanctions. The measures were imposed after the Kremlin annexed Crimea in March and then helped to fuel a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
The ruble settled Wednesday near 61 to the dollar, a recovery from Tuesday, when it had spiked as high as 80, but still far above 33, its level at the start of the year. The weakened currency drives up prices, makes it harder for companies to repay loans that were taken out in dollars or euros, and waters down Russians’ savings.
The rapid depreciation of the ruble stirred bad memories of Russia’s 1998 default. Putin took office in the aftermath and solidified his control of the nation with the promise that such a crisis would never occur again.
But many Russian newspapers that are usually reliably pro-Kremlin warned Wednesday in editorials that the country was steps away from a full-blown bank run. “The central bank has buried the ruble” was a headline on the front of Moscow’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The turmoil this week was scoring a direct hit on the urban middle class, which has greatly prospered under Putin. Several carmakers temporarily suspended sales in Russia until they could determine what prices would protect them against losses. Apple’s online store in Russia remained offline Wednesday for the second day in a row.
The overall economic mood remained pessimistic. Many here said they had abandoned or curtailed plans for European winter travel, which became a beloved ritual during the Putin years and had been accessible even to the lower middle class.
Russians have effectively taken a 50 percent pay cut in euro terms in the space of a year, making large swaths of Europe again inaccessible to them and dimming support for the Russian government.
Svetlana Kudryashova, 47, a Moscow-based business consultant, said she had abandoned a two-week New Year’s vacation to Austria in favor of a shorter trip just over the border to Finland. She said she will pack all the groceries and supplies she will need, right down to toilet paper, since she can no longer afford to buy European products.
“All these years I could afford” going to Europe, she said. “This year, I think I can afford it, but I just don’t know how I will live the rest of my life after the trip.”
One analyst said that the years of prosperity fueled by rising oil prices during Putin’s first years in power were no guide to the future.
“People associate that prosperity with Putin. And that’s normal,” said Grigory Golosov, a professor at the European University at St. Petersburg. “But no one really knows how that populace will react to the rapidly deteriorating economic circumstances.”
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.