One Solution: Import Substitution!

Audit Chamber Forecasts Meat, Milk, and Cheese Deficits
November 3, 2015

The Audit Chamber argues that under the import substitution program, Russia may experience shortfalls of meat, dairy products, and cheese in 2016. This outcome is expected because raw produce from countries subject to the embargo are often used in food production, reports RIA Novosti.

“There is a risk of partial compensation of shortfalls of produce banned for import from a number of countries,” the Audit Chamber reported. It is likewise expected that in the medium term, problems with consumer demand might arise in the process of import substitution.

As the agency noted, after using high-quality products, shoppers refrain from [purchasing] “Russian counterparts with lower consumer characteristics.”

“Accordingly, support, ‘voting with rubles,’ should not be expected from consumer demand for domestic products in the event of their qualitative deterioration,” said the chamber.

It was reported on October 28 that ten suppliers of imported meat and dairy products, as well raw materials for confectioneries, had filed a complaint against supermarket chains with the industry’s good practices compliance commission. The reason for the complaint was the fact the chains had been fining the suppliers for stopping the supply of goods affected by Russian anti-sanctions.

On October 1, Russian agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor released findings that 78.3% of cheese in Russia is adulterated, since it contains vegetable oils. According to the agency, this figure is as high as 45% in Moscow and Moscow Region. The overall level of adulteration in the dairy market is 25.3%, as revealed by monitoring conducted from January to September of this year.


According to a study done by the Roskontrol Consumers Union, 75% of the cheese and 58% of the butter sold in major Moscow supermarket chains is adulterated.

In August 2014, Russia imposed a produce embargo on EU member states, as well as the US, Australia, Canada, and Norway. In late June 2015, Moscow extended the embargo for a year. Later, the Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree extending the produce embargo to countries supporting sanctions against Russia. The restrictions were extended to Albania, Montenegro, Iceland, and Lichtenstein. The list of banned produce includes, in particular, beef, pork, fish, and milk. If imported into Russia, these goods are subject to destruction.

On June 24, 2015, Russian President Vladimir extended the counter-sanctions for a year, until August 6, 2016.

orthodox import substitution
“For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). Full Russian Orthodox import substitution to the masses!

Price of Cucumbers in Russia Soars by 1,000 Percent!
Elena Rotkevich
November 2, 2015
Gorod 812

According to Rosstat, the price of fresh cucumbers in late October rose by almost a third in a week. In Petersburg, the price of cucumbers has soared by 500–1000% over the [last] month. Gorod 812 tried to get to the bottom of what has happened with cucumbers and whether we are threatened by a deficit.

Shopkeepers cannot keep up with rewriting price tags. A month ago, dimpled cucumbers cost a little over 20 rubles a kilo, but now the average price is 150 rubles a kilo. In small stores and produce markets, the price has already surpassed 200 rubles a kilo. On the web, farm-grown long cucumbers are selling for 525 rubles a kilo. They are more expensive than meat.

What has happened with cucumbers? Gorod 812 talked to producers and suppliers.

maxresdefaultThe first thing we have discovered is that a deficit has set in. There is a shortfall of cucumbers in Petersburg.

“[We are selling] only greenhouse-grown cucumbers and only on order. We have a contract with a greenhouse in Leningrad Region. We supply their produce to supermarket chains. At the moment, we are really standing in line waiting for the harvest. We are even giving some of our clients the runaround,” a source at the company Veles told us.

“There are not enough cucumbers?”

“There is a total shortfall. The price for them now varies from 80 to 160 rubles a kilo. But that is today. The prices change practically daily. There are no spiny, dimpled cucumbers at all. Everyone is trying to grown medium-sized cucumbers, because it is unprofitable to grow short cucumbers: their mass is too small. There are loopholes for shipping cucumbers from abroad, of course, but it is very expensive anyway,” our source at Veles said.

Gorod 812 contacted local cucumber producers. On the website of the agricultural enterprise Victory (Annino Village, Leningrad Region), cucumbers were listed at 85 rubles a kilo. We gave them a call.

“The information online is outdated. We have run out of cucumbers. We only have ingredients for borscht: cabbages, carrots, beets, and potatoes. We had cucumbers in the summer, because we have summer greenhouses. We don’t have winter greenhouses,” a source at Victory told us.

The situation with the scarce product is also tense in the warm climes of our country.

“It’s already cold. Cucumbers aren’t growing,” we were told by a farm in Volgograd Region that only a couple weeks earlier had still been selling cucumbers.

It was the same thing in Krasnodar Region.

The Flagma agricultural enterprise in Krasnodar was reluctantly willing to part with their cucumbers.

“We have very few cucumbers now. A client came yesterday. He offered a good price, but we couldn’t find him the tonnage he needed. We even asked around the greenhouses. They all said they couldn’t give us cucumbers, because the entire harvest is bespoken a month in advance. If you don’t need much, we can sell them to you for 100 rubles a kilo. The  cucumbers are local Ghermans, pendular cucumbers.”

At the Petersburg company Gold, which supplies cucumbers from Belarus, the price for a kilo of cucumbers rose from 110 rubles to 115 rubles in fifteen minutes.

“It was 110 rubles for the previous batch. But now it is 150 rubles a kilo. There is little supply on the market, and Belorussia [sic] is running out. Wholesalers are starting to ship from other places, like Turkey and Azerbaijan. Delivery is more expensive, and the price is higher,” our source at Gold explained.

vitaminy-v-ogurcahThe online price for imported cucumbers starts at 1.35 euros a kilo, plus delivery costs. The previous supply chain of cheap cucumbers from the EU has been blocked by the produce embargo. Businesses are trying to organize the delivery of cucumbers from China and Moldova. Petersburg is mainly supplied with Turkish cucumbers. Local cucumber producers advise checking them carefully for nitrates and other chemicals just in case.

By the way, relatively inexpensive cucumbers (starting at 1.69 euros a kilo, i.e., around 120 rubles a kilo) can be found in hypermarkets in [neigboring] Finland.

In Leningrad Region, Gorod 812 managed to find only one producer of fresh cucumbers, the agricultural holding Vyborzhets. It has a virtual monopoly on the local market. Vyborzhets sells its produce to everyone, wholesale and retail buyers, on the same terms, at the same price. Long and medium-sized cucumbers go for 140 rubles a kilo; short cucumbers, for 190 rubles a kilo.

“What did you expect? Our businesses have realized there is going to be a cucumber shortfall, and are now trying to recoup their costs from previous years. It is a predictable situation. On the other hand, we cannot blame them. Back in the day, they almost declared bankruptcy when cucumbers were imported to Russia and our economy was demolished,” said Alexander Bykov, president of the Leningrad Region and Petersburg Farmers Union.

According to Bykov, the cost of producing local cucumbers has remained unchanged.

“Maybe it has increased a bit, depending on energy costs. There is no competition in this market. The term ‘competition’ is applicable if two producers grow produce using the same technology. But if two products are produced in different conditions, the price will be different. The Antimonopoly Service cannot pin anything on them. They are free to do their own pricing. Plus, there is a chain of middlemen and retailers who ratchet up the prices. One could force chain stores to contract directly with producers, thus bypassing the layer of intermediaries. But dealers usually own the storage warehouses and take the risks involved in selling the produce. Producers do not have big warehouses. They have nowhere to put produce,” explained Bykov.

It seems that Russia is returning to Soviet times. Those who were alive then will remember there were no cucumbers in winter at all. They would run out in October, and the first long greenhouse cucumbers would hit the shelves for March 8 [International Women’s Day]. They cost 2 rubles and 20 kopecks a kilo, the same price as baloney, while meat (beef) cost 2 rubles a kilo. Then the cucumbers would disappear again until summer. During the dacha season, the price for cucumbers would fall, but it was no longer the tasteless “eighth of March” long cucumbers that were on sale, but normal cucumbers. In Leningrad, they cost around 20 kopecks a kilo. The current deficit is also an omen from Soviet times.

“I think the authorities should pay attention to the shortfall of cucumbers in Petersburg. And pay more attention to agriculture, because it is the industry that can replace oil in Russia,” said Alexander Bykov.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Second image, above, courtesy of paperdaemon

China Friendly, Part Two: “There Are Lots of Them, and a Few of Us”

Russian literature is often credited with a rich tradition of satire, parody, and absurdism, a tradition associated with writers otherwise as different as Gogol, Dostoevsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Kharms, Ilf and Petrov, and Zoshchenko. But this is a misconception. All these writers were stone-cold realists. You only have to live in Russia for a time and know the language well enough to realize they did not make anything up. They just had to turn on their tape recorders, so to speak. As reporter Elena Rotkevich did for the following article.

There is also no little irony in the fact that this article was going to press just as reports had begun coming in that the almighty Chinese economy was going pear-shaped. Although that now-dubious omnipotence seems to have been achieved at a totally unacceptable cost.

“Our goal is communism!”


“The Hermitage is not particularly interesting to the Chinese”
Elena Rotkevich
July 6, 2015
Gorod 812

Red itineraries will be popular if they are pitched properly to tourists from the PRC. Tourist guide and interpreter Ekaterina Guseva shared her impressions of working with Chinese groups.

Are the Chinese really interested in Lenin?

I think the Chinese will find tours to Lenin and revolutionary sites interesting, especially the fifty-something generation. It is this generation that mainly comes to Russia, because they studied our history and know our literature and culture fairly well. The Chinese were raised on stories about the Soviet Union. It was Big Brother who helped them. They call us a great or militant nation, and they are very curious about how this great nation is faring right now. Do we still sing “Katyusha”? Do we respect Lenin? They often ask whether life under communism was good and whether we miss the communist regime.

They are very interested in domestic details: what our daily schedule is like, whether we eat black bread, how many benefits we have, whether there is still free medical care, whether apartments are provided for free. The questions are not always easy.

And what do you say to them?

We try and reflect the real facts when we answer them. For example, that apartments were distributed for free in the Soviet Union, but some people miss those times, while others don’t.

The most popular sight in Petersburg among the Chinese was the cruiser Aurora, but now, unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration. The main museums—the Hermitage, Peterhof—are not particularly interesting to them. They don’t like boring, highly detailed tours, for example, when the kinds of woods used in the unique parquet floor in the Throne Room are listed. They like something a little more fun.

Touring Lenin sites is not a bad idea. At present, they are not taken to Lenin museums. We only drive up to the Smolny, but we don’t go inside. The demand for red tours will hinge on the right advertising campaign and cooperation with Chinese tour agencies. We could combine Petersburg with Finland and Sweden: with the right revolutionary commentary, Scandinavia will also be popular. The main thing is pitching the material.

Have the numbers of Chinese tourists increased?

This year we had a 300% increase in the flow of tourists from China. We lack licensed Russian tour guides. We have gone public about the problem on more than one occasion since the deficit is made up for by illegals. Semi-legal Chinese tourist firms operating in Petersburg hire similarly illegal Chinese immigrants as tour guides. Someone lends them a young [Russian] woman licensed to lead tours in English or Spanish, and under the guise of this young woman, they show groups around the city. These illegals badly mangle our history, and they distort the characteristics of Russians and Russian culture. I myself once saw a female Chinese tour guide on the grand staircase [in the Catherine Palace] at Pushkin make a sweeping gesture with her hand, pointing to everything in the vicinity, and heard her say to her group, “The Russians stole everything you see here. They went everywhere with warriors, tried to conquer everybody, and stole and stole wherever they went.” We are trying to combat this, but there are lots of them, and a few of us.

Isn’t it time to do the signage on the streets, in the subway, and in museums in Chinese?

In terms of quantity, Chinese tourists outnumber all other foreign tourists, of course. But Chinese tourism is usually group tourism. Quite often they have a group visa, which theoretically does not imply they will be navigating the city independently. They don’t walk the streets or ride the subway on their own, only with a guide. So there is probably no need for this.

Is it hard to work with the Chinese?

It is a lot more pleasant to work with Chinese tourists than with Americans, for example, or Canadians because from the get-go they have a more positive attitude toward Russia and Russians. They buy the same souvenirs as everyone else: matryoshka dolls and scarves. And they love amber.

Translated by the Russian Reader. This article was published on page 19 of the July 6, 2015, print edition of Gorod 812. So far, it has not been published in the magazine’s online edition. This post is a sequel of sorts to a collage of translated material on Russia’s “Chinese turn,” published here last autumn.