Funny Things Happened at the Forum

The phenomenal Petersburg photographer Alexander Petrosyan snapped this hyperrealist folk-conceptual photo at this week’s international economic forum in Petersburg, where the honored guests include the Taliban and the “president” of one of the fake Donbas “people’s republics.” There has been a lot of coverage of the remarks made at the forum by this snapshot’s ostensible subject. I have excerpted one article about them, below. This excerpt is followed by my translation of an interview with Sergei Khestanov about the forum and the broader Russian economic outlook in the light of the war and western sanctions.


As is traditional, the forum was dominated by a plenary session involving Putin. Earlier in the week, Peskov announced that Putin would make “an extremely important speech”. A couple of days later, he went out of his way to insist that the president was not about to announce a mobilization. It’s unclear why this was necessary – it’s no longer early March when this rumor was widespread.

The speech itself (which lasted for almost 90 minutes) contained no surprises. Putin spoke Friday about how “crazy sanctions” were not hurting the Russian economy, but, instead, causing pain for the Western countries as they wrestle with a crisis caused by an ill-conceived coronavirus response. “Our special military operation has nothing to do with it,” Putin said. More than once, Putin insisted the Russian economy remained open for business and reaffirmed his belief that the West would come to its senses and that Western companies would soon return to operating in Russia as normal.

But the most interesting part was when the moderator, Margarita Simonyan (head of state-owned RT and a prominent hawk on Ukraine) began putting questions to Putin and Tokayev. Along with the president of Armenia, Tokayev was one of only two heads of state to travel to the forum. It was painfully clear that Tokayev’s presence was repayment for Putin’s support back in January when troops from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) helped to re-impose order in Kazakhstan and, at the same time, marginalize Tokayev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

However, Tokayev’s gratitude knows some bounds. That was apparent two days before he shared the stage with Putin when he gave an interview to state-owned Rossiya 24 in which he confirmed that his country would fully comply with Western sanctions on Russia.

Judging by what followed, Putin was aware of that interview. The highlight of the session was Putin’s attempt to pronounce his colleague’s name and patronymic – Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich. In January, when Kazakhstan was at the center of international attention as a result of civil unrest, Putin was already struggling with this difficult – but not impossible – name and twice uttered something incoherent. This time, at the start of his speech, Putin got it right – but during the Q&A session he again referred to Tokayev as “Kemel-Zhemelevich”, prompting a highly suspicious look from his supposed ally (this is clearly visible in the video).

Tokayev’s answers to Simonyan’s questions were far from the platitudes of an ally and some of what he said ran directly counter to Putin’s position. Diplomatic and courteous (Tokayev is a former UN Deputy General Secretary), the Kazakh president told Putin:

  • Kazakhstan “takes sanctions into account” (a response to a question from Simonyan suggesting the West must be pushing Kazakhstan to stop cooperation with Russia).
  • No economy can successfully pursue a policy of self-reliance and import substitution.
  • Ukraine’s accession to the European Union must be accepted as a new reality, even though its economy is in a dreadful condition.
  • The U.S., and the West in general, are not in the throes of a major crisis. At present, the U.S. economy is “modern and dynamic.”
  • That there are some Russian politicians, journalists and cultural figures who make “absolutely incorrect statements about Kazakhstan” and other states and “sow discord between our peoples.” This is likely to refer to occasional calls in the Russian parliament to protect the Russian-speaking population of Kazakhstan, which is concentrated in the north of the country. Such pronouncements are very reminiscent of the rhetoric in Russia about the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
  • Finally, without prompting, Tokayev dismissed the possibility of Kazakhstan recognizing the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. He dismissed the republics – recognized by Russia – as “quasi-state entities.”

You can watch the whole of the plenary session here, or read a transcript here.

The scandal continued Saturday when Kazakh media reported Tokayev had turned down the Order of Alexander Nevsky bestowed on him by the Russian government. The official reason was that Kazakhstan’s president is not permitted to accept honors from foreign countries while in office – Russian state-owned media devoted half a day to reporting this explanation.

Source: “Showcasing Isolation,” The Bell, 19 June 2022


The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) wrapped up this weekend. The feelings it generated are complicated. On the one hand, there was a heated discussion of the forum in social media; on the other hand, it was mainly not economic news that was discussed, but the juicy scandals that happened at the forum. Does the international forum have a future in the face of total western sanctions? And have the speeches at the SPIEF made it clearer what will happen next with the Russian economy? We talked about this with Sergei Khestanov, a well-known economist who has developed dozens of financial theories and techniques. He also serves as an adviser on macroeconomics to the CEO of Otkritie Investments.

Judging by the discussion of SPIEF on social media, the hottest guests were the Taliban (an organization that is banned in Russia) and Philipp Kirkorov. Is this due to the exoticism of their being at the economic forum or the absence of significant guests?

— The Taliban were just a kind of exotic highlight, I think. By the way, they were not particularly visible in the latter part of the forum. There weren’t many notable guests, really, but then again there hasn’t been an abundance of such guests for many years. What was unusual was that some guests of the forum (Russians, by the way) were asked not to advertise their participation and to wear name tags that did not spell out their companies and positions, lest they be hit by sanctions. From the economic point of view of, it doesn’t mean anything, but it is a quite interesting reflection on how the forum is seen.

Was western business represented at the forum in general?

— It was practically absent. Many [western businessmen] simply cannot attend without spoiling their reputations, even those who have not yet abandoned the Russian market.

And what was interesting from a substantive point of view?

— In terms of the forum’s substance, I would draw attention to the statement made by [Sberbank chief] Hermann Gref that the Russian economy would be able to reach the level of 2021 in ten years. That’s quite a frank recognition of the state of our economy. Vladimir Putin’s statement about banning audits of businesses is also welcome if the number of such audits is really reduced. However, it bothers me that they have been talking about this for so many years [without doing anything about it.]

Putin also announced a reduction in the preferential mortgage rate to seven percent.

— Volumes of orders have been falling in the construction industry, so we need to support it. And since, as a rule, the construction industry is closely affiliated with local and, sometimes, regional authorities, the desire to support it is quite understandable. Plus, the industry is a multiplier, so helping it helps the metals industry, manufacturers of cement, lumber, and so on. However, the decline in volumes is not yet tremendous, so nothing terrible would happen without help, but nor do I expect the support to trigger a boom.

There is another danger here: real estate prices in Russia, especially in the megacities, are overheated. if the decrease in mortgage rates is not coupled with an increase in down payments, we could end up with a mortgage bubble. And then, under certain unfavorable circumstances, of which there might be many going forward, we could face a terrific downturn in prices and a serious mortgage crisis. I would not say that the danger is great now, but it cannot be ignored.

Wait, what collapse? What crisis? It followed from Vladimir Putin’s speech that we have been successfully coping with western sanctions. Supposedly, foreign exchange earnings are so great that they almost equaled the volume of the frozen portion of Russian gold and foreign exchange reserves.

— Russia is bursting with money that it cannot digest because of import restrictions and the threat of frozen accounts. It turns out that money has been earned, but what to do with it? It isn’t possible to use it constructively. And this madness with shoring up the ruble is due to the fact that there is no demand for non-cash payments: exporters need controls, but they cannot sell currency. So, it’s like a pear is dangling in front of you, but you can’t eat it.

But Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina in her speech suggested a way out for exporters: they should focus on the domestic market.

— Those are pretty words, but most exporters have been working for the domestic market for a long time. The problem is that the domestic market’s capacity is limited. For oil and petroleum products, for example, domestic demand accounts for about a quarter of current production. That is, if we refocus on the domestic market, we need to cut production threefold. Will that make things better?

Export industries perfectly satisfy domestic demand, and everything else is exported. This also applies to the metals industry, both ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and the oil industry, and the petrochemical industry. Nizhnekamskneftekhim, the world’s largest producer in its class of raw materials for plastics, supplies its products to both the domestic and foreign markets, but only a very small portion of what it produces goes to the domestic market, because such is the demand.

And, for example, aluminum and titanium are used mainly in aircraft construction. Given current conditions in the domestic market, they can be used, at best, to make kvass cans.

— Exactly. The domestic Russian market is simply not able to absorb everything produced by exporters. So, this call to pivot to the domestic market is like that joke. “Bunnies, become hedgehogs, so the foxes won’t eat you.” “Great, but how do we do it?” “I don’t know — I’m a strategist, not a tactician.”

To be fair, Nabiullina had also talked about structural adjustment in the past.

— What the Central Bank head said about structural adjustment is right, but it doesn’t make much sense yet. Unless we note the speech made by [Alexei] Kudrin, who said that it would take two to three months to develop a strategy. I consider him one of the most serious public figures in terms of macroeconomic analysis, so his words carry a lot of weight for me. Two or three months is a realistic amount of time, I think. It would bring us to the beginning of autumn, and all over the world at this time, business picks up after the summer lull. Plus, statistics for macroeconomic indicators will have been reported, and the relevance of the data will have increased. So I’m eighty to ninety percent in agreement with him.

 But what don’t you agree with?

— My main disagreement is that, since the sanctions have not yet ended, the effectiveness of strategies is low. No matter how good a plan is, it will have to be changed quickly and often. Moreover, so far most of the sanctions have impacted imports, and that is not so terrible. Of course, it’s sad that Ivan Sixpack can no longer buy a new smartphone, but this has little effect on the economy. Export sanctions are much more serious when it comes to filling the state coffers. But I think it’s too early to talk about them before next year.

Well, so far, Ivan Sixpack does not seem to be suffering much. Many people say that the sanctions are not really hurting us.

— Since demand has dropped a lot, people are under the illusion that nothing terrible has happened. But by the second half of September, I think that stocks in the warehouses will be exhausted, and it will become clear what is happening with durable goods.

— Especially with spare parts for cars. This topic is now of concern to many people. A friend of mine is now glad that she didn’t buy a foreign car, as she had originally wanted, but a Russian-assembled Renault.

— She shouldn’t be too glad. Some of the spare parts for inexpensive Russian-assembled foreign cars are made in Russia, but only some. The rest are imported.

— So, we will have to establish a shuttle trading business for the delivery of spare parts.

— Maybe, but the whole business will be tedious, time-consuming and, accordingly, much more expensive. As in the 90s, people will have to buy cars that Russian spare parts fit. They will have to learn how to do their own repairs. In Soviet times, I went abroad to buy a used car with cardboard templates in tow to determine whether the wheels from a Lada would fit it, whether the filters would fit. I knew how to re-rivet brake pads. Basically, I can fix anything on a car, except the carburetor. Most of the motorists of that time could do the same. Maybe they couldn’t do everything, but they could do the most basic things like cleaning the spark plugs and changing the oil and filters. Those were the necessary skills. But nowadays, many people don’t even know how to change tires.

— They’ll have to learn. Once again the menfolk will gather in garages on weekends, although many people don’t have their own garages anymore. They only have spaces in multi-story parking lots, and you can’t repair a car there.

— And the skills have been lost. Of course, a parallel import market will be established, and people will learn how to do repairs, but it will be difficult for motorists. It will become immensely more expensive and more difficult to maintain a car.

— Speaking of cars. Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov announced plans to resume production not only of the Moskvitch, as discussed by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, but also of the Volga and even the Pobeda. The latter, by the way, was produced in the 50s. Is the [Russian] car industry really that bad off? What about the Chinese? Wouldn’t they help us? After all, they are switching to electric vehicles. Could they transfer the production of internal combustion engines to Russia?

— As I understand it, Manturov was actually talking about reviving the brands, not the cars of that generation themselves. Because if there is a demand for classic Ladas now, it’s not very big. In the back country, the fact that they can be repaired easily is appreciated. But all the other cars [of the period] were total tanks. I used to drive a Pobeda back in the day. It really, you know, encourages you to develop your shoulder muscles, because turning the steering wheel involves great physical exertion. The brakes are the same way.

But what they probably have in mind is producing new models under those brands, maybe even stylized to look like the old ones. Aesthetically, the Pobeda is beautiful — it’s just hard to drive it. The Volga 21 is beautiful, and so are the Moskvitches up to the 412 model. And if you also give it a two-tone paint job, like the Moskvitch 403, you could make a very popular model. Volkswagen also produced an updated replica of the Beetle.

 And how will they make them?

— They will probably buy the platforms from the Chinese, or [the Chinese] will even supply the assembly lines. Then designers will be commissioned to come up with designs, maybe even stylized to look like Soviet cars. And so the brands will be reborn.

— In conclusion, let’s return to the guests at SPIEF. In terms of foreign leaders, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attended the forum. Chinese President Xi Jinping also made a short speech via video link. There is probably no point in asking whether SPIEF can now claim the role of the “Russian Davos.” I wanted to ask you abpit something else. Given the current conditions, is there any point to this event?

— Tokayev, I think, just couldn’t help but show up. Everyone paid attention to how he spoke relatively harshly about the DPR and the LPR. Of course, he is a professional career diplomat and spoke in such a way that you can’t find fault with him, so it’s quite difficult to extract any one definite message from his speeches.

— What about when he said that Kazakhstan had no choice but to support western sanctions?

— But this is quite obvious: he didn’t say anything new. It is clear that the economy of Kazakhstan cannot fight a consolidated decision by the western economies. This would not only be difficult, but also not really necessary. So, where its own interests are not affected, Kazakhstan can help Russia — but no more than that. By the way, the Chinese have the same attitude towards us.

Is that why Xi Jinping not only did not come to SPIEF, but was also brief in his video message?

— There is not much to talk about in the current circumstances. So it’s not that Xi didn’t want to talk. There was nothing in particular for him to talk about. It is clear to everyone that the Russian economy is not doing very well. So, our corporations signed contracts with each other, which they happily reported before going their separate ways.

The question of whether SPIEF should be held is another matter: the degeneration of such forums is not only a Russian problem. The Davos forum has also been experiencing a lack of serious ideas. Ten years ago, the substantive part of it was much larger, but nowadays everyone is for all the good things and against all the bad things. And all other [economic] forums face similar problems: a lack of substance and a focus on narrow subjects. So, what is happening with the Petersburg Forum is not unique.

Russian pop singer Philipp Kirkorov at the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum
Photo: Maksim Konstantinov/Global Look Press. Courtesy of Republic

It’s hard to say what the reason is for this. Maybe the format has worn out its welcome. As in art, there is a fashion, a trend, and then times, traditions, and tastes change, and the format goes away. Maybe it is due to the fact that the world economy has been slowing down. When the forums were interesting, the economy was growing; intense economic processes were underway, and reforms were being undertaken in the countries of the former USSR and Eastern Europe. But now there is stagnation everywhere, even in the IT field, about which I know a thing or two. What can I say? Moore’s law has been disproven! The number of transistors on a single chip no longer doubles every eighteen months. So, this is a universal problem. I don’t know whether this trend is reversible or permanent, but for the time being it’s like this. Do you remember the Central Committee plenums in Soviet times? The “resolutions” that were “submitted for consideration” and instantly “approved”? The long tedious speeches about nothing? It’s all coming to look a lot like that.

Source: Tatyana Rybakova, “‘Do you remember the Central Committee plenums in Soviet times? It’s all coming to look a lot like that’: Sergei Khestanov on the St. Petersburg Economic Forum and the future of the economy,” Republic, 19 June 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Pioneer

The withdrawal of the American company Corteva Agriscience (Pioneer) from the Russian market may trigger problems in the country’s agriculture. Experts are already warning about a shortage of seeds for certain crops.

Marina Petrova, deputy chair of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s committee for entrepreneurship development in the agro-industrial complex and CEO of Petrova 5 Consulting, told Delovoi Peterburg that while the level of self-sufficiency with domestic grain seeds exceeds 75%, import dependence remains high for sunflower, at about 70%, and for corn, at more than 50%. Leftover seeds held by suppliers and Russian-produced varieties and hybrids are an alternative source.

“Domestic seeds often have poorer traits than foreign varieties. But Russia has a scientific base and decent domestic wheat, oat, rice and buckwheat seed products,” says Petrova. In her opinion, domestic selection and seed production is in need of structural transformation and state support. Over the past decade, the share of foreign seeds has increased significantly in Russia. This is primarily due to their higher yields. The largest players also offered package solutions involving seeds, agrochemicals, and management via digital platforms. Third-party designs may thus often be incompatible with existing ones.

Corteva Agriscience is a well-known producer of alfalfa, rapeseed, corn, cotton, rice, sorghum, soy, sunflower and wheat seeds, as well as plant protection products (including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides). According to the Leningrad Regional Committee for the Agro-Industry Complex and Fisheries, the region does not depend on Corteva Agriscience’s seeds. The committee’s press service clarified, however, that rapeseed, which is cultivated in the region, is actually grown from imported seeds. But corn and wheat seeds are domestically produced, while wheat seed is produced in the Leningrad Region itself.

Prinevskoye Breeding Farm CJSC (which grows rapeseed, among other things) reported that they had managed to purchase all the seeds they needed for the 2022 sowing campaign. “If there is no possibility of sourcing foreign rapeseed hybrids, we have a domestic analogue, Oredezh 6, which at the moment we can use to cover the needs not only of our farm, but also of the region,“ says Alexander Peretyatko, deputy general director for commercial affairs at Prinevskoye.

According to experts at the Agrophysical Research Institute, Russia has the potential to replace imported corn and rapeseed. This can also be said about wheat, which Crimea supplies in fairly large volumes. At the same time, seeds for protected soil (tomatoes, cucumbers, greens) are limited on the market. The chief researcher at the Institute’s Laboratory for Plant Biophysics, Professor Mikhail Arkhipov, recalls that back in 2016, a decree was issued ordering the production of original and elite agricultural plant seeds in the areas of domestic crop production that were highly dependent on foreign-made seeds. According to Arkhipov, the decree has still not been properly implemented.

“75% of the agricultural holdings that produce grain are owned by foreign companies. Foreign seed companies also continue to be actively involved in the Russian market. However, domestic seed growers can also solve the issue of supplying grain-growing areas with domestic wheat seeds. We have the necessary agricultural resources to produce our own seeds,” the expert notes.

In late 2021, President Vladimir Putin said that within a decade the country would be able to provide farmers at least 75% of the seeds they required. Arkhipov believes that this is a real prospect in the seed market for most agricultural crops. Petrova points out that many seed-growing enterprises need to improve their physical facilities and increase their technologization. Another problem that hinders the industry’s development is a shortage of personnel.

Source: Darya Dmitrieva, “Fresh ground: farmers prepare for shortage of imported seeds,” Delovoi Peterburg, 11 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader, who grew up on a farm in the Upper Midwest.


Corteva to Withdraw from Russia

Corteva has made the decision to withdraw from Russia and, having already paused new sales, is initiating a plan to stop production and business activities.

Our priorities remain the safety of our employees and global food security. Since the onset of this tragic war, we have taken all possible action to support and protect our Ukrainian colleagues and their families, our customers, and the communities in which we operate, including through direct and indirect aid to address the immediate humanitarian needs.

We have also put in place direct action to help assure as normal as possible 2022 growing season in Ukraine.

Given the war’s impact on global food security, the Company will donate seeds to Ukraine, Africa, and the Middle East region for the 2023 growing season, to lessen the impact on global food production.

Corteva joins with many others around the world in advocating for peace.

Source: Corteva.com, 28 April 2022

Annals of Import Substitution: Khudi Zarina, Etc.

“Our everything: a huge selection of goods from Russia! Even more goods from Russia – look! [1.] Zarina hoodie, 1,689 rubles [approx. 21 euros]. [2.] Vasilisa Botanika bedding set, 1,571 rubles. [3.] Tech Team Comfort urban scooter, 3,990 rubles.” Source: Ozon email advertising circular, 2 May 2022. Ozon is a major Russian online retailer and is sometimes referred to as “the Amazon of Russia.” When I still lived in Russia, I regularly ordered books from them. In the first weeks of the war, they were pushing the imported western goods they still had in stock. ||| TRR

We’ll Replace You

“We’ll replace [them, you, etc.]”

An art installation about import substitution has appeared in the center of St. Petersburg today. While some are recalculating advertising budgets and monitoring news about global brands resuming operations in Russia, others are replacing [them]. 👀

Source: Sostav.ru: Advertising and Marketing in Russia, Facebook, 27 April 2022, via Five Corners community page. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Show Must Go On

A warehouse in the Edelweiss (Stroybat) hardware store chain in Petersburg. Photo: Sergei Yermokhin/Delovoi Peterburg

Good day!

Skimping on bags and paper, problems with electric cars, and the rise in price of coffee beans

Skimping on little things. Retailers and catering are reducing the use of certain types of packaging, containers, and consumables. Some things you have to give up against your will.

Tired of waiting for guests. The travel industry wants to get a tax exemption from Petersburg city hall, an extension of cashback, and a new version of Booking.com.

Russians charge slowly but drive fast. Sanctions have blocked the way to Russia for foreign electric cars, but import substitution is already being readied.

Pecking like a bird. Petersburg coffee roasters have faced logistical problems. Green coffee beans have risen in price by 15-50%, which has already affected retail prices.

They keep well. In the current situation, warehouses remain the most stable segment of the commercial real estate market, experts argue.

Have a good day!

Source: Delovoi Peterburg, daily email newsletter to subscribers, 7 April 2022. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin for Delovoi Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader


Queen’s hits as played by a symphony orchestra

Show must go on? [sic in English] We agree! Great news for everyone who has dreamed of going to a concert by the legendary Queen. On April 21, the group’s international hits will be performed at Tinkoff Arena by the IP Orchestra under the direction of the brilliant Igor Ponomarenko.

Queen is one of the greatest bands in history: their cultural legacy has changed the world of music forever.

The supremely rich acoustic palette of a symphony orchestra, new arrangements of classic Queen compositions, the wild drive of the musicians on stage, and the charming voice of the soloists — all this is part of the patented “Queen Show. Show Must go on” [sic in English].

The IP Orchestra performing Queen Show. Show Must go on. Tickets for their April 21 performance cost between 1,500 and 2,500 rubles [approx. 17-28 euros]. Subscribers to Bileter.ru’s newsletter get a 10% discount

The IP Orchestra has long established itself as a brand not only in Russia, but also in the countries of the near and far abroad. The band has toured on five continents, performed at the world’s best venues, and has thousands of admiring viewers and loyal listeners.

To attend this event, you will need a QR code showing that you have been fully vaccinated or have had the disease, or a certificate showing that you have had a full course of a vaccine, or a document confirming that you have been granted a medical exemption from vaccination along with a negative PCR test for participants and guests over eighteen years of age.

Source: Bileter.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader


Unfortunately, for reasons beyond our control, all parts of J. K. Rowling’s famous saga about the boy wizard will be unavailable on LitRes in three days. Only now can you buy them in time with a 25% discount! It is important that every book remains in your personal library forever.

“Unfortunately, the Harry Potter series will disappear from the LitRes shelves at 23:59 p.m. on 8 April 2022. Buy the books in time and they will remain with you forever.”

To activate the discount, follow this link or enter ACCIO on the promo code page. The offer is valid until April 8.

Source: LitRes email newsletter for customers, 6 April 2022. Image, above, captured on this page on their website. Translated by the Russian Reader

Teach Your Children Well: Import Substitution

As Kommersant has learned, Russian schools have received new recommendations on teaching special lessons in the light of the “special military operation” in Ukraine. In this case, teachers must organize classes for students in grades 5-9 and 10-11 on the topic of “anti-Russian sanctions and their impact on the domestic economy.” In the training manual, this “impact” is depicted rather positively: schoolchildren are told about the growth of the share of Russian-made products in several sectors, and then they are asked to assess which countries would suffer great economic losses from sanctions. Economists interviewed by Kommersant point out the mistakes made by the manual’s authors and warn that Russian schoolchildren will soon see the effect of sanctions themselves.

Materials for the “sanctions” lesson were handed over to Kommersant by a teacher in the Moscow Region. We found reports on such lessons on the websites of a number of schools in the Moscow, Oryol and Samara regions. As stated in the manual, teachers should “show Russia’s capacities for overcoming the negative consequences of the sanctions pressure brought by western countries on our society’s economy [and] give [pupils] an idea of the main vector of anti-sanctions policy in the Russian Federation.” The classes are to be held as part of social studies courses.

At the beginning of the lesson, teachers must quote President Vladimir Putin that “unprecedented external pressure has been exerted on Russia.” They must then ask schoolchildren whether they know “what the priority measures of our state’s anti-sanctions policy are.”

“Thus, as the photo from Lyceum No. 3 (Opornaya, 4) shows, as prescribed in the methodological recommendations, the lesson began with a quote from the head of state that “unprecedented external pressure has been exerted on Russia.” Vladimir Putin then invites teenagers to familiarize themselves with the resources that the country has in the face of western sanctions. Source: “Children in Vladivostok schools are told about western sanctions and the benefits of import substitution,” vl.ru, 5 April 2022

Only then should teachers tell their pupils what sanctions are: “Restrictions designed to ‘punish’ a country for its actions.” At this point, they must also clarify what “actions” are meant: “the special military operation being conducted by Russia in Ukraine, occasioned by the need to protect the population of Donbas.” Examples of sanctions include the freezing of assets of state corporations and banks, as well as a portion of Russia’s gold and foreign exchange reserves. Another example is the departure of foreign companies.

Teachers should then tell pupils that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin “has identified protecting the domestic market and keeping the able-bodied population employed as the most important focus of the anti-sanctions policy.” And students have to answer the question “Why exactly are these areas a priority?”

The manual also contains a link to a video about the benefits of import substitution.

The video explains that, in the 1990s and early 2000s, imported products prevailed over domestic ones. “Active advertising of foreign goods” and “the idea of the superiority of imported products and the inability of Russian manufacturers to bring similar products online” were pushed. But by 2022, the situation had changed dramatically, says the voice-over: the share of Russian-made products had grown in food production machinery (from 12% to 45%), agricultural machinery (from 24% to 55%), and machine tool construction (from 18% to 38%). It is also suggested that teachers show pupils statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Trade during the lesson. The statistics purportedly show that the share of Russian goods across the entire civilian range of commodities has increased many times in the field of mechanical engineering since 2014.

“Together with pupils, the teachers conclude that economic policy in recent years has been aimed at increasing protections for domestic producers and ensuring their sustainability in the face of external crises,” the lesson script says. At this point, students in grades 5-9 are asked to list the set of measures taken to support the Russian economy and citizens in “conditions of increased pressure from sanctions,” while high school students have to describe their intended effect.

At the end of the lesson, students must fill out a feedback form. They have to answer the following questions: “Are the sanctions against Russia fair?”, “Will the sanctions lead to a strengthening of the Russian economy?”, and “Who will suffer great economic losses?”

There are three possible answers to the last question: Russia, the NATO countries, or all countries of the world.

The Education Ministry confirmed to Kommersant that it had sent methodological recommendations to schools. They were developed by the Institute of Education Development Strategies, which is subordinated to the Ministry. The Ministry noted that “leading third-party experts” from different industries had been involved in developing the lesson scenario. “The lesson materials offer schoolchildren the chance to familiarize themselves with the measures taken by the president and the government to counteract sanctions by unfriendly countries,” the Ministry told Kommersant. “The lesson materials specially emphasize the characteristics of the import substitution policy that has been implemented in Russia in recent years. The lesson assumes the active involvement of students when working with documents and interactive materials containing important information about the Russian economy’s achievements in various sectors and its readiness to resist sanctions,” they said.

Teachers from schools in Crimea and Sevastopol confirmed to Kommersant that they would have to give such lessons. And yet, they refused to give a personal assessment of the lessons, explaining that they were afraid of violating the laws on disrespect for the authorities and discrediting the armed forces. The Irkutsk Regional Ministry of Education said that lessons on import substitution had already been conducted (as extracurricular classes) for 85,000 students in 154 schools. “Children have generally shown an interest and reacted positively to the information,” they noted.

Kommersant asked economists to comment on the manual. Natalya Zubarevich, a specialist in regional socio-economic development, refused to look at it. “Why should I read this manual? It’s already clear as it is that we will lose the most advanced technology industries,“ she told Kommersant. “There is no need to hurry. Even if this manual is read aloud to children, life will show them how things really stand. In the summer, or certainly in the autumn, the children will come home and see for themselves that their families have no money, and that there is no way to buy certain goods.”

The manual’s specialized language is too complicated for both schoolchildren and teachers, says Vladimir Salnikov, an expert at the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting.

“Many points [in the manual] are quite correct at the qualitative level, but you can argue with individual figures,” says Salnikov. “For example, according to our estimates, the share of imports in certain industries is slightly higher [than indicated in the lesson materials]. Mr. Salnikov considers it an incorrect decision to present mechanical engineering as a good example of import substitution. “Things were going much better in the Russian food industry and in a number of segments of the chemical industry. And things have been quite good in some parts of light industry,” the expert says, “but the progress has been worse in mechanical engineering.”

The presentation states that “the share of Russian-made goods in the automotive industry” increased from 7% in 2014 to 86.3% in 2020. Kommersant‘s sources in the automotive industry confess that they do not understand where these figures came from: “Probably, the figures for 2020 include Russia’s entire production of cars, regardless of localization. But in this case, it is wrong to call the goods absolutely domestic. It’s also unclear why the manual’s authors cite the figure of 7% for 2014. In fact, at that time, Russian production’s share in the car market was about 75%. It’s a shame that schoolchildren will receive distorted information,” they said. Our sources also reminded us that the only automotive plants currently operating in Russia are those belonging to GAZ, UAZ, KamAZ, Mazda Sollers, and the Chinese brand Haval. The rest have been idled due to sanctions.

In early March, the Education Ministry recommended that schools hold a special history lesson (see Kommersant, 2 March 2022). Its goal was to “shape” an adequate stance among high school students on the issue of the special peacekeeping operation by the armed forces. Later, classes devoted to fake news were held in schools, in which students were urged not to believe the reports of the Ukrainian authorities about the number of Russian soldiers who had been killed (see Kommersant, 11 March 2022). Finally, during the “Brotherhood of Slavic Peoples” lesson, schoolchildren were told about the kindred cultures of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, “who should remain a single people today and not succumb to the provocations of those trying to divide them.”

Source: Anna Vasilyeva, Maria Starikova, Olga Nikitina; Vlad Nikiforov (Irkutsk); and Alexander Dremlyugin (Simferopol), Kommersant, 5 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Mark Teeter: When Is a Club Sandwich Not a Club Sandwich?


Mark H. Teeter
Facebook
July 3, 2021

CULTURAL “TRANSITIONS” THAT SHOULD BE DEEMED ILLEGAL.

Or: When is a club sandwich DECIDEDLY NOT a club sandwich? When it’s a клаб-сэндвич, that’s when!

I was wandering through our local Perekrestok supermarket today when I happened to notice the packaged sandwich below: a ham & cheese on white. Ho-hum; there probably isn’t anything more run-o’-the-mill in the sandwich world, and I would’ve walked peacefully on by if my eye hadn’t caught the sandwich’s package label — which proclaimed it a club sandwich (WTH?!?) — and a “DOUBLE” at that!!! (Клаб-сэндвич двойной с ветчиной и сыром. Шеф Перекресток, ₽149.00)

There’s a great deal of corruption in this country, as the whole world knows; but y’axe, it’s hard to think of anything corrupter than calling a measly ham & cheese on white a double club sandwich. Where’d the rest of the ingredients go?!? To the Kremlin Commissary?!?

If you’ve never had an actual club sandwich, see the standard example above. Whoa! Kinda makes you want to find a lawyer and sue whoever is responsible for “borrowing” such a time-honored and respectable name for the Russian version. That thing on the left is a legitimate club sandwich the same way Medieval Kleptocratic Thugocracy is a legitimate form of governance — and our diminutive President for Life is a legitimate head of state.

Hmm, there’s a thought: maybe somebody can start a movement tp rename this sandwich-poseur the Kлаб-сэндвич им. В.В. Путина — the Putin Club Sandwich (additional assembly required).

++++++++++++++++

Oh, and arrest the guy who made up this description for the item:

“Slices of ham and cheese, along with a slightly spicy sauce, on toast. A classic combination of ingredients and great taste! Ideal!”

“На пшеничных тостах расположились ломтики ветчины и сыра, а также слегка пикантный соус. Классическое сочетание ингредиентов и отличный вкус! Идеально!”

Call me a Menshivizing idealist (I’ve heard worse!), but the slapdash thing below and an ideal club sandwich are, in my sandwich-eatin’ view, utterly incompatible concepts. So idealize this, Perekrestok!

Thanks to Mark Teeter for permission to reprint this here and for keeping an eye on things in the Motherland for those of us who can’t be there at the moment. ||| TRR

Russian Import Substitution Blues

cherry coke 2018“Try Ripe Cherry Coca-Cola.” Billboard, Petersburg, July 28, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

The Consequences of Countersanctions: Food Import Embargo Makes Russian Producers More Inefficient
Vladimir Ruvinsky
Vedomosti
June 25, 2019

Vladimir Putin has extended Russia’s food embargo until the end of 2020, but the policy’s positive effect has dried up. Instead, it has been making Russian producers less efficient and driving up prices. The Kremlin imagined an embargo would be a good response to western sanctions over the annexation of Crimea, but Russian consumers have had to foot the bill.

Putin’s ban has been in effect since August 2014. It prohibits the import of meat, fish, and dairy products from the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Norway. During his televised “direct line” to the nation the other day, Putin explained that, over the past five years, the sanctions those countries imposed on Russia had led to the loss of $50 billion for the Russian economy since 2014. The west, however, had lost more. According to Putin, the EU had lost $140 billion, while the US had lost $17 billion. Apparently, Russians should take heart knowing they have not been the main losers in the sanctions war.

First, however, the economies of the EU and the US are many times bigger than Russia’s, so, in fact, Russia has lost the most. Second, the losses do not boil down to simple arithmetics. Third, the subject of countersanctions has not really been discussed. Natalya Volchkova, director of applied research at the Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR), has calculated the protectionist policy costs every Russian 2,000 rubles a year: this is the sum total of what we overpay for products in the fourteen categories affected by the countersanctions. She argues that, out of this sum, 1,250 rubles go to Russian producers and 500 rubles go to companies importing food from countries not covered by countersanctions, while the toll on the Russian economy’s efficiency amounts to 250 rubles per person per year.

Full import substitution has not been achieved: suppliers from the sanctioned countries have been replaced by suppliers who work with other countries, who often charge more for their goods. Restricting competition was meant to give Russian agriculture a leg up, and some domestic producers have, in fact, increased output. According to Rosstat, retail food imports decreased from 34% in 2014 to 24% in 2018. Since 2016, however, the dropoff in imports has trailed off. Volchkova complains that most Russian import-substituted goods have increased in price. They are produced by businesses that had been loss-making. This is the source of the overall inefficiency.

Natalya Orlova, the chief economist at Alfa Bank, divides countersanctions into two phases. When they are implemented they have a positive effect, but over time the risks of negative consequences increase.  The only good option on the horizon is the lifting of the sanctions. When it might happen is not clear, says Orlova: it is currently not on the agenda. When it does happen, however, it will be bad news for Russian producers. Countersanctions have helped major players increase their shares of the domestic market. They have become more visible in such cushy conditions but less competitive as well. The longer the conditions are maintained, the less ready the Russian agro-industry will be to face the harsh competition. When the walls come tumbling down, we will see again that European producers are more sophisticated technologically.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergei Shelin: Isolationism Has Corrupted Russia

vhuo87jzsh8j2vtaThe label from a bottle of Port Wine 777. Courtesy of Collectionerus

Isolationism Has Corrupted Russia
The Sukhoi Superjet 100’s crash shows what happens when a country isolates itself from the world while trying to keep up with the 21st century’s Joneses 
Sergei Shelin
Rosbalt
May 7, 2019

Only Murmansk Region announced an official day of mourning for the people who perished at Moscow’s Sheremetevo Airport on May 5. There was little expectation a national day of morning would be announced, since the protocol for such things, adopted by the country’s leaders for their own convenience, do not stipulate a national day of mourning after disasters of this magnitude. It is thus neither a matter of heartlessness nor the upcoming Victory Day holiday.

The Sukhoi Superjet 100s have not been grounded, however. True, the authorities are currently pushing the hypothesis the crash was caused by pilot error. This is a more intelligible and attractive explanation than the hypothesis that was cooked up just the other day as a diversion, the one about how some passengers, allegedly, prevented other passengers from escaping because they were trying to get their luggage out of the burning plane. Nothing has yet been proven, however, although hardly anyone would argue with the fact that the first passenger jet designed and built in Russia since the Soviet Union’s collapse has been a failure.

The Super Jet was produced long before the current falling out with the west. Its designers made generous use of imported parts, hoping the plane would sell like hotcakes abroad. Today, the few foreign airlines whom Sukhoi managed to persuade to purchase the planes, for example, the Mexicans, complain about the Super Jet’s unreliability, design flaws, and delays in procuring spare parts. It would seem they are looking for a good excuse to stop flying the planes.

The flip side of these failures has been the attempt to force Russian airlines to operate the plane, especially Aeroflot. What would grounding the plane mean now? It would be tantamount to bringing the entire undertaking to a close. Clearly, the Russian state’s ambitions and collective self-interest have coalesced to oppose this decision. The Super Jets are still flying, and we can only hope everything will work out for the best.

Such semi-Russian, semi-foreign collaborations are feasible and normal if the general contractor is not having a spat with the outside world, and airlines are free to choose which airplanes they fly. This was not quite the case from the get-go, but when Russia’s quarrel with the west gained momentum, all the worst aspects of the venture elbowed their way to the fore, turning into a self-sustaining process.

The deeper Russia sinks into isolation, the worse the links in all business chains function, while state protectionism constantly increases for anything that resembles import substitution or at least apes it. The number of failures and breakdowns in all parts of Russian society, some of them involving fatalities, sometimes without them, thank God, inevitably grows.

What is the difference between yesteryear’s Soviet isolationism and the current Russian isolationism? The former was preprogrammed to generate victims and hardship. They were merely part of the system. We need not talk about Stalin’s horrors. Even during its final decades, the Soviet Union was still typified by universal poverty, quite strong societal discipline, and the ruling class’s relative modesty. This state of affairs was maintained by a ragtag ideology and a still palpable fear of the state machine. Isolation was vouchsafed, of course, by the Soviet Union’s lagging behind the outside world. But it did not weigh heavy on every aspect of life and all at the same time. People moved into Khrushchev-era blocks of flats, regarding them as the last word in modern housing. They drank 777 brand “port wine,” having no clue how real Portuguese port tasted.

On the other hand, the Soviet military-industrial complex competed successfully with the rest of the world, at least until the early 1980s. Even though it was a byproduct of military aviation, Soviet civil aviation was quite impressive. The country’s professional communities, including the period’s passenger airline pilots, maintained a strict work ethic longer than Soviet society at large. Crashes were not so rare, however. But they were usually covered up not only due to totalitarianism but also because the information revolution had not yet happened.

The Soviet regime seemed invincible almost to the bitter end. Current attempts to resurrect it, despite their impressive magnitude, are laughable.

Today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union.  It does not have the stamina to compete in arms races and so forth with the outside world. It has even less will to self-denial, both among the elites and the grassroots. People have been adapting to the plans of the authorities to lock them up in a besieged fortress forever, but their life hacks are completely different from what they were in the last century.

Many Russians who have the right skills, experience, and education have been leaving abroad to work. By the way, their ranks have included hundreds if not thousands of the country’s best commercial pilots. Several millions of people, each of them capable of doing something well, have emigrated from Russia during Putin’s twenty-year reign.

Meanwhile, the majority of Russians, who have stayed in Russia, have tried to make themselves as comfy as they can in their import-substitution society, hoping either for special perks or state welfare, or perks and welfare all at once.

Since isolation has kicked in, independent business, already frail, has almost gone extinct. But the bureaucratized “state-minded” capitalists who took over the entire business field have nothing in common with the dexterous captains of Soviet management. As they get filthy rich through import substitution, today’s Russian magnates would never think of depriving themselves of the outside world’s blessings. They do not pretend to be farsighted. Simple minded, they loudly demand that the isolationist feast go on, becoming more creative as it proceeds. From time to time, the peculiarity of their exclamations spices up the sad circumstances, but not much.

Many people laughed at Viktor Linnik, president of Russian agribusiness giant Miratorg, and the National Meat Association when they called on the government to ban individuals from bringing small amounts of sanctioned European produce back to Russia. They were especially amused when Linnik said, “Jamon should be eaten in Spain, while Parmesan cheese should be eaten in France.”

The most striking thing about what Linnik said was not his confusion about Parmesan cheese’s national provenance, but the ease with which one could continue his line of though by saying, for example, that Russian bread should be eaten in Russia and, consequently, it was time to stop exporting grain, one of the few export sectors in which Russia has been blossoming. Would you tell me only a crazy blowhard would suggest such a thing? I doubt you would. Many things that had seemed impossible have already happened during the current orgy of import substitution, which consists of equal portions of greed and persecution mania.

Russia’s newfangled twenty-first-century isolationism not only vouchsafes the country will lag behind others. It is a species of intellectual, moral and professional corruption. It means no lessons can be learned from accidents and disasters. It means decadence, decay, and collapse are fobbed off as a decent, normal life.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Nastiness Is a Warm Gun: The Kremlin’s Cowboys

bd1bf37b99A Miratorg worker tending calves. Courtesy of Readovka

Business Russian Style, or, What is Miratorg, and What Do You Eat with It?
Dmitry Zhuravsky
Readovka
April 30, 2019

How Did a Company Importing Meat from Brazil End Up Getting Most of Russia’s Agricultural Subsidies? 
Miratorg’s own website identifies it as the largest agribusiness investor in Russia. The company is owned the Linnik twins, Viktor and Alexander. Viktor serves as the company’s president. It was Viktor Linnik who, last week, proposed tightening controls on the luggage of people entering Russia and increasing penalties for the illegal import of meat-based products. Today, he encouraged Russians to stop thinking about Parmesan cheese and start thinking more about the country’s growth. To rub it in, he dubbed everyone disgruntled with such proposals “blowhards.”

We should point out right off the bat that the fact Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s wife’s maiden name is Linnik is only a funny coincidence, one which the Linnik twins have never tired of mentioning when they are interviewed by journalists.

The facts back this up. Blood relatives of the Russian state’s second most important person could not have established a giant agribusiness company that keeps all its accounts and founding capital outside Russia.

One hundred percent of Miratorg’s shares are owned by Cypriot offshore companies: 99.99% by Agromir, Ltd. (despite its Russian acronym, the company is registered in Nicosia), and 0.01% by Saudeid Enterprises, Ltd. (also registered in Nicosia).

Nevertheless, Miratorg is on the Russian federal list of so-called backbone companies and, since 2015, due to Russia’s self-imposed ban on meat and produce imports, it has been dubbed a strategic company. These regalia allow the Cypriot-based company to obtain loans from Vnesheconombank at discounted rates, which means it borrows part of its operating capital by drawing on the future pensions of Russians. (We published a detailed analysis of this scheme in a previous article.) It also means Miratorg can apply to the government for subsidies to pay back these selfsame loans.

A Success Story
Considering Viktor Linnik’s current circumstances, Miratorg’s origins appear laughable. The company was initially established to import meat from Holland and Brazil to Russia. To make the job easier, two years after the company was founded, in 1997, Miratorg opened a subsidiary in the Kaliningrad Sea Fishing Port, through which it imported meat to mainland Russia. Miratorg did business this way for nearly ten years. In 2005, it purchased a stake in two BelgoFrance-owned pig farms in Belgorod Region. The import company was transformed into a full-fledged agribusiness.

Kaliningrad Sea Fishing Port. Courtesy of Readovka

Miratorg went on to co-found a farm in Kaliningrad Region. A little later, it moved into Bryansk Region, which has become the company’s second home.

It was also in 2005 Miratorg was chosen to be involved in the National Priority Projects, a program for growing “human capital,” announced by Vladimir Putin on September 5, 2005. Until Dmitry Medvedev was elected president, the program, which included promoting the agricultural sector as one of its priorities, was overseen by the current Russian prime minister. Since 2008, when Medvedev was inaugurated president, the agricultural growth program has had its own line item in the federal budget.

Current Realities
Miratorg is currently Russia’s largest meat producer. According to Kontr.Focus.ru, an online service for assisting in doing due diligence on potential clients and business partners, Miratorg, Ltd., has founded thirty-six subsidiaries in eight regions of Russia. In 2017, the company produced 415,000 tons of pork, 114,000 tons of poultry, and 82,000 tons of beef.

Russia’s regions regard Miratorg as a valuable investor whom nearly any governor would be glad to welcome into his neighborhood. According to Miratorg’s website, the company has made a total of 200 billion rubles in investments. The advent of an agricultural market player of this caliber in a region means a guaranteed inflow of money from the federal budget in the form of subsidies from the government’s agricultural sector growth program and  Miratorg’s own investments.

On paper, Miratorg is a real find for regions heavily dependent on federal government subsidies. Aside from the federal agricultural subsidies it brings with it, Miratorg contributes to regional budgets through the land it leases. Its farms provide jobs while they are being builty and after they are brought on line. In addition, it pays taxes in the regions. The company is not a burden but a blessing, or so it would seem.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Miratorg President Viktor Linnik. Courtesy of Readovka

Taking advantage of its status, Miratorg moves confidently around Russia. In the regions, it has become accustomed to acting suddenly and brazenly. The company often receives land under indefinite gratuitous bailments by order of the federal government, whose decrees are personally signed by Prime Minister Medvedev.

Miratorg usually acts in full compliance with the law, although the effects of how it does business trip up regional governments. After three years, the land it leases free of charge is transferred from regional ownership to Miratorg’s ownership.

Last summer, the Bryansk Commercial Court adjudicated a conflict between the Bryansk Meat Company (Miratorg’s local subsidiary) and the Bryansk Regional Government. Miratorg tried to prove that members of a district council had violated the law by refusing to sell them land they had been leasing. According to law, a company that has leased agricultural land for three years has the right to purchase it and continuing farming it. Only two conditions must be met for the deal to go through: the relevant regulatory authorities must have no objections, and the land must be used for its original purpose.

The Bryansk Meat Company had complied with these terms, but local councilors had not signed off on the deal. Originally, they had agree to lease the land to the investor. Later, Miratorg’s subsidiary decided to trick the council and buy the land. Consequently, the local council was not paid the rent promised to it and did not profit from Miratorg’s presence in the district.

Instead of a lease, the local council was offered a one-time payment, which is transferred to the council’s accounts when the investor buys the land. Bryansk Meat Company’s farm occupies thirteen parcels of land totaling 7,398,700 square meters. Under the terms of the sale of the parcels to Miratorg, the average assessed value of one square meter of land is a mere 1.6 rubles. It is a great deal for Miratorg, but not for Bryansk Region.

We found reports of similar law suits ongoing between Miratorg and local governments in other regions of Russia.

Nastiness Is a Warm Gun
Since 2009, Miratorg has also confidently been colonizing Kursk Region. Its investments there began with the Pristen District, but currently the company operates in thirteen districts in the region. Its facilities in Kursk Region include the Pristen Pig Farm, Blagodatnoye Agricultural Enterprise, Renaissance Farm, Fatezh Lamb, and Miratorg Kursk, Ltd. According to Miratorg’s figures, it invested 17 billion rubles on its agribusiness facilities in Kursk Region between 2009 and 2017. In the Pristen District, it built two pig-breeding facilities with three sites each, while in the Oboyan District it built two pedigree breeding units.

Currently, Miratorg is building what will be Europe’s largest refrigerated slaughterhouse with a capacity to process 4.5 million head of hogs or 400,000 tons of meat in slaughter weight. Miratorg has also been building seven pig farms in two other districts in the region.

3fe1ac38af.jpgA billboard showing Miratorg’s assets in Kursk Region. Courtesy of Readovka

Why has Miratorg invested so much in Kursk Region? For the same reason it has invested heavily in Smolensk, Bryansk, Kaluga, Kaliningrad, and other regions in Russia. The Russian federal budget supports domestic industrial agricultural enterprises with subsidies. Some of the federal government’s assistance is earmarked for the largest players in agribusiness, the strategic, “backbone” companies we mentioned earlier. Some of the assistance is filtered through regional government budgets, where it is meant to boost small companies and support local producers. When Miratorg sets up a subsidiary in a region, it automatically grabs the lion’s share of federal subsidies for itself.

In Russia, there are no limits on the subsidies a particular agricultural holding company can receive. By using the subsidiaries it has established in the regions, a national agribusiness company can qualify for regional subsidies. For example, in 2016, the Bryansk Meat Company was awarded 98% of all subsidies earmarked in the federal budget for promoting agriculture in Bryansk Region.

At the same time, Miratorg has been officially designated as a strategic, “backbone” enterprise. Accordingly, the company and its subsidiaries also receive subsidies for pursuing particular projects. Since 2014, Vnesheconombank has lent Miratorg $871.5 million to expand meat production. Thanks to sleights of hand such as this on, in 2016, Bryansk Meat Company left not only farms in Bryansk high and dry in terms of financing but also farmers nationwide by hogging 90% of all subsidies earmarked for agriculture. The total amount of subsidized loans was 33.6 billion rubles, and this financing was obtained by a single Miratorg subsidiary for a single year.

The company has been feeding off this program since it was founded in 2005. Miratorg has received hundred of billions of rubles in subsidies over this period.

The more subsidiaries it gets, the more lines of credit Miratorg can receive. The story  of its rise to the top bears a strong resemblance to the way Yevgeny Prigozhin built his school cafeteria catering monopoly in Moscow. There is one signal difference, however: whereas Concord Catering’s contract implies that Prigozhin’s food production facility does the work for which it was contracted and pays back its debts out of the profit generated by the facility, some of Miratorg’s loan agreements contain an interesting loophole. It can fulfill its obligations to Vnesheconombank one of two ways, either the way Concord Catering does it, by paying back its debts out of its profits, or by selling off its founding shares in its subsidiaries to pay off its loans. Meaning, hypothetically, Miratorg can rid itself of some of its subsidiaries.

Where Do Miratorg’s Profits Go?
Considering the billions in government subsidies it receives annually, Miratorg and its owners do not even have to run a good business to live high on the hog. According to open sources, Miratorg’s profits shrunk fivefold in 2016, amounting to a mere five billion rubles, despite the fact the company received several tens of billions of rubles in subsidies from the Russian federal government.

Nevertheless, Miratorg is the main supplier of meat for huge fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King. It has also launched its own cafes and supermarket chain. Miratorg’s profits, which are incomparable to the subsidies paid to the company, end up not in Russian bank accounts, but in offshore accounts in Cyprus.

d79d3fe745.jpgA  Miratorg supermarket, newly opened somewhere in Russia. Courtesy of Readovka

Miratorg’s operations do not resemble an attempt to promote Russian agriculture, but rather a scheme for spiriting federal money out of the country. Given Miratorg is the industry leader in terms of land assets and government support, it should also have come to monopolize supermarket shelves. Its status as a strategic enterprise and the subsidies it receives simply oblige it to aspire to this end. The government’s plan was to have Miratorg replace all the imported meat banned from supermarkets with domestically produced meat.

Instead, Miratorg annually receives several hundreds of billions in subsidies allocated by the government to support the country’s agriculture. Miratorg spends the money to purchase land, which it uses, along with shares from its regional subsidiaries, as collateral to obtain more loans.

Ultimately, instead of building a successful business and resurrecting Russian domestic agriculture according to the government’s plan, Miratorg merely filches money from the federal budget. As long as it keeps feeding the “Cypriot butchers,” real hardworking Russian farmers will have to get by without substantial assistance. Eventually, the whirligig of subsidies could lead to the complete collapse of Russian agriculture as such.

Thanks to Anna Klimenko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader