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'Night Of The Long Excavator Scoops:' Moscow Razes Scores Of Street Shops 

Moscow Destroys About 100 Businesses in Beautification Blitz
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WATCH: Moscow destroys about 100 businesses in a beautification blitz (RFE/RL's Russian Service)

In Moscow, they are as common as street signs and as indispensable to daily life as fur hats in winter: the pop-up convenience stores known as kiosks.

So when Moscow city authorities razed dozens of kiosks and other street shops under the cover of night, residents and proprietors responded with an outpouring of scorn and snark to what they see as another example of arbitrary government policy.

Excavators and workers dismantled at least 97 kiosks and similar structures in the early hours of February 9 from several locations in the Russian capital, including the central Chistiye Prudy neighborhood, and near the busy Arbat subway station.

The buildings, which variously housed florists, cafes, pharmacies, small groceries, or even slot machines, were deemed to be illegal, according to Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who said in a post on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte that they were dangerous and that some had been around since the 1990s.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin

Many kiosks around Russia are built with inexpensive materials and shoddy workmanship. Others targeted in the February 9 action were full-fledged multilevel structures.

All were labeled "samo-stroi," or "self-built," when the mayor's office first announced in December the upcoming move to raze the buildings.

Still, because of their convenient locations -- on sidewalks, near subway or bus stations -- the stores fill an important niche, and the sudden decision to demolish so many had Muscovites questioning why the structures had been allowed to stand so long if they were in fact illegal.

Ekho Moskvy radio reported that some shop owners scrambled to pull their wares from the stores even as excavators began chopping up the buildings.


Moscow Destroys Kiosks In Beautification Blitz
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Russian commentators who took to Twitter and other social networks made light of the fact that the move came despite calls by President Vladimir Putin to support small businesses nationwide as the country experiences a serious economic crisis due to falling oil prices and Western sanctions in response to Kremlin interference in Ukraine.

(TRANSLATION: Moscow. 4 a.m. Authorities unleash the program to support small business.)

Others dubbed the destruction the Night Of The Long Excavator Scoops, a darkly humorous reference to the Night Of Long Knives -- a critical moment in 1934 when Nazi thugs killed numerous opponents as part of an effort to consolidate power.

Others drew parallels to Russia's ongoing air campaign in Syria, which has flattened scores of buildings and reportedly killed many civilians. One well-known blogger aped the language used by the Russian Defense Ministry in giving its daily update: "During the previous night forces of the Housing and Maintenance Utility of the Russian Federation destroyed nearly 100 outposts of Islamic State in Moscow."

TRANSLATION: NATO air forces bombed the center of Moscow without any declaration of war.

Sobyanin isn't the first mayor of the Russian capital to target kiosks.

His predecessor, the wily, long-ruling Yury Luzhkov, ordered the removal of the structures citywide on at least two occasions in the 1990s, when they flourished in the wake of the Soviet collapse as a quick and easy solution to the problem of dreary and poorly stocked supermarkets.

It's unclear how many kiosks and "self-built" stores exist throughout Moscow, though some estimates put the number in the tens of thousands.

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