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On Display At 'Made-In-Russia' Fair: Hope, Patriotism, And Crimean Wine

  • Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- Holding a bread loaf with "import substitution" written across the top, Albina Glebova barked out a warning to the West at a fair showcasing domestically produced goods intended to reduce Russia's reliance on imports.

"We'll kill the dollar with our bread!" said Glebova, director of development at Voskresensky bakery.

The bakery was one of some 250 companies at the three-day fair, all hoping to do their part for their country at a difficult time -- and cash in on a Kremlin confrontation with the West that has made Russia's self-reliance a national priority.

"We deliver our goods across Russia, and we are easily competitive enough and capable of replacing [Belgian and French] products," Glebova said of Voskresensky, whose name derives from the Russian word for resurrection. It makes bread and dough that can be frozen for six months.

"We're cheaper because we use local ingredients," she added.

The fair at a sprawling exhibition center on the outskirts of Moscow was part of a campaign to promote "import substitution" -- a catch-phrase that has become a kind of Kremlin mantra since Russia banned many Western foods last year in retaliation for sanctions imposed over its interference in Ukraine.

On September 16, President Vladimir Putin said, "Russia is paying priority attention to the issue of import substitution of agriculture products."

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev toured the trade fair on September 15.

The government drive for self-sufficiency has been accompanied by a state-supported push for patriotism and aided by the dramatic fall of the ruble in the last year, which has made imported goods more expensive.

But the campaign appears yet to bear fruit.

On August 18, Russian media outlet RBK cited an analysis conducted by the Moody's financial research service as saying that the import-substitution drive had so far failed on almost all fronts.

The Moody's report found "no signs" that the government effort had stimulated domestic production in any field apart from the food sector, RBK reported.

That's not for want of trying.

In his remarks on September 16, Putin said that 265 billion rubles ($4.1 billion) had been allocated from the Russian budget to over 450 "import-substitution" investment products in the agricultural sector.

At the September 15-17 trade fair, many stands were run by companies in the high-tech sector and other industries in which Russia is also trying to reduce dependence on imports.

Among them was Observer, which makes wheelchairs that can descend and ascend staircases while keeping the user in an upright position.

The wheelchairs are manufactured in Russia but use British electronics, although they are increasingly trying to use local parts, said Yury Zakharov, development director at Observer. "We can feel the state support and we can see it," he added. "Most recently, they gave us additional machines so that we can increase production."

A Show For Putin?

"Import substitution is the 'word of the year'," wrote popular blogger Ilya Varlamov, who visited the trade fair on September 15 -- and was not impressed.

"Unfortunately, I didn't see anything interesting or new. It seemed more that the whole exhibition was made to show the president and prime minister that we have import substitution," he wrote.

Some of the stands seemed to have less to do with "import substitution" than with traditional Russian items.

One displayed dozens of extravagant, gold-framed Russian Orthodox icons. A bearded man posted at the stand declined to speak to RFE/RL about the display.

Another featured Shato Ay-Danil wine from a region that most of the word considers to be part of Ukraine: Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula whose March 2014 annexation by Russia is widely considered to have been illegal.

At the stand for Derzhava, a beer and kvass company whose name could be translated as "Great Power," manager Veronika Ryabchenko said she very much approved of the government "import-substitution" drive. But she said it was hard for producers to break into the big Moscow market, which she said was dominated by well-known international brands.

Many beverages do not fall under the Russian ban, and the products of large Western-based brands are often made and bottled in Russia. Nonetheless, Ryabchenko said she would like to see a shake-up of the market that would make local Russian beers and kvass dominant.

"We've just had a look here at a little shop here in Moscow," she said. "There's Czech beer, German beer, even Serbian beer. We would like to see our Russian produce here in Russian shops in Moscow and across the country. We're patriots of our country."

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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