Ban Polish apples, get a new road!

Browsing through Twitter I came across this story which is so very Russian:

Gangs smuggling goods into Russia have secretly repaired a road on the Belarussian border in order to boost business, the TASS news agency reported Monday.

Smugglers have transformed the gravel track in the Smolensk region in order to help their heavy goods vehicles traveling on the route, said Alexander Laznenko from the Smolensk region border agency. The criminal groups have widened and raised the road and added additional turning points, he said.

Vital infrastructure being provided by fruit smugglers.  Who needs government?

As to why this is happening:

A convoy of trucks was recently stopped on the road carrying 175 tons of sanctioned Polish fruit worth 13 million rubles ($200,000). The produce was subsequently destroyed, TASS reported.

Local border guards, customs and police officers have checked over 73,000 vehicles entering Russia from Belarus this year, Laznenko said, claiming that the number of heavy goods vehicles crossing the border from Belarus has increased dramatically in the last year, he said.

To be fair, nobody could have predicted this:

We can also expect “businessmen” in Kazakhstan and Belarussia to do well out of this.  These two countries have not adopted the Russian sanctions yet are in a customs union with Russia.  Therefore, in theory, these countries can import as many EU goods as they like and re-export to Russia without interference.

I expect these two re-routing options to meet the bulk of the demand for goods banned by the sanctions, at a cost to Russian residents of somewhere around 10-30% in price and reduced freshness of the produce itself.  Where the Russian government intervenes with price controls, we can expect those products to disappear from shelves almost entirely and a healthy black market springing up.

Putin prefers Trump, but why?

Via Samizdata, I came across this article by Michael Totten, who is more usually known for his superb reporting from the Middle East.  The theme of the article is the supposed mutual admiration between Putin and Trump, and there has been lots of discussion recently regarding which of the two presidential candidates Russia prefers:

He’s not a Russian “Manchurian” candidate. He doesn’t take orders from Moscow, nor is Vlad bankrolling the Donald. There is no conspiracy here. There doesn’t need to be. Their interests and opinions align organically. Trump genuinely likes Putin, and the feeling is mutual.

Although it appears that Putin and his fellow Russians do prefer Trump over Hillary, I think most commentators have missed the point as to why.  Everybody I have read has focussed on policies and which of the two would be more likely to oppose Russia’s interests and ambitions.  Personally, I don’t think at this stage policies have much to do with it.  I think it is all down to character and personality.

Russians actually don’t mind people opposing them.  If you stand up to a Russian, they will on some level respect you and maybe even admire you.  Russians still admire Margaret Thatcher, despite her being wholeheartedly against everything they stood for at the time, and they do so because she was strong and had political courage.  Russians didn’t like George W. Bush much in terms of policies, but I always got the impression they had a sneaking admiration for his determination to actual do what he said he was going to.

What Russians absolutely detest is the sort of cowardly, half-hearted, and flip-flopping behaviour seen by pretty much every European politician and epitomised by Barack Obama: the weasel words over the shooting down of MH17, the capitulation to Iran over the captured US sailors, the backtracking over the “red lines” in Syria, and a multitude of other international and domestic issues which required somebody to have the courage to talk tough, make a decision, and follow through on it.

Russians are an old-fashioned lot and they have not bought into the PC niceties which the police are now enforcing in the west.  They expect their male leaders to exhibit masculine behaviour and their females tough and uncompromising in their defence of Russian interests.  Sometimes they take this too far and you get the ridiculous pictures of Putin fishing with his shirt off, etc. but underlying this is a genuine desire to see their country run by people with a set of balls.  What Russians will never, ever respect is somebody who is lauded for being a brilliant intellectual but is photographed doing this:

And this picture may have captured the hearts of American women over 35 and the pajama boys, but I could imagine it being passed around the briefing room in the Kremlin to hoots of laughter:

To put it crudely, as most Russians would, they think Obama and his counterparts in Europe are a bunch of effeminate pussies.  Regardless of their policies, I suspect most Russians who have fought (literally) their way to the top of the pile in the Kremlin can’t stand dealing with them simply because of their characters.

So when it comes to Trump, at a guess I would say Russians admire the man for standing up, speaking his mind, pissing everyone off, laughing at the PC-brigade trying to silence him, and having a wife worthy of any Russian oligarch.  As for Hillary, they probably see her as a washed-up grandma riding on the coat-tails of a man who was shagging the interns behind her back.  If you know Russians, it’s not hard to see why they might admire Trump more than Clinton.  But I doubt it has anything to do with policies, not yet anyway.

A Video Worth Watching

There are many criticisms which could be made of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, but not doing enough to relieve motorists caught in a provincial blizzard isn’t one of them:

A blizzard survivor has addressed an angry video message to Russian President Vladimir Putin after about 80 people waited 15 hours for rescuers in the Orenburg region of Russia.

A driver froze to death and many others suffered frostbite when their vehicles were trapped on a main road in the region, in the southern Ural mountains.

Russia sends aid abroad but “we cannot save our own people”, Pavel Gusev said.

Prosecutors in Russia’s Investigative Committee (SK) are now examining the emergency response on the night of 3 January, when cars were buried in snow on the Orenburg-Orsk road.

Survivors say the blizzard was so bad there was virtually no visibility.

The fact is that it is extremely difficult to do much about motorists stranded in a blizzard, not least because it is almost impossible to plan for.  Around Christmas 2014 severe snowstorms left 15,000 people stranded in the French Alps.  Every country – whether used to snow or not – suffers the problem of stranded motorists when an unusually severe blizzard hits, and the emergency services and other authorities are usually powerless to do anything until the conditions improve.  It is not practical or feasible to have hundreds of specialist snow-rescue vehicles scattered around a country, let alone one the size of Russia, in the event motorists get trapped.  And the poor conditions, particularly visibility, prevent would-be rescuers reaching those trapped in any case.  A solution, one which I’m sure the Savoy police would agree with, was ventured by the admittedly rather unhelpful Russian authorities:

Some calls for help got the reply from rescue service staff: “You should have stayed at home, you had no business going out.”

Firstly, you watch the weather when you live in places prone to snowstorms.  If a particularly nasty front is coming in, stay at home.  Secondly, if you live in such an area you are supposed to carry a winter kit with you in the back of the car: snow chains, shovel, tow-rope, gloves, warm boots, de-icer, torch, etc.  I made sure I had all this kit in the boot of my car whenever I drove around Sakhalin in winter, and I do the same when I drive in the Alps now.  If I’m going far, I make sure I have a bottle of water and a down jacket with me, and sometimes throw a sleeping bag on the back seat just in case I have to spend the night in the car.  And the car is always, always, as full with diesel as possible: you don’t venture far from home in harsh winter weather on an empty tank.  That said, it is still possible to take all the right measures and still end up trapped and freezing in a blizzard, sometimes you just get unlucky and if you have kids in the car it’ll be pretty miserable.  But this isn’t something you can really blame the emergency services for, and certainly not the president.  15 hours isn’t an unusually long time to wait for help, and unless you are really badly prepared, or very young, old, or sick you ought to be able to survive that easily.

However, that is not to say the complaint isn’t important.  I once went on a training course with a large psychological element which gave us an exercise concerning a theoretical employee who has just burst into a manager’s office with a specific complaint.  We – being engineers – fell over ourselves to solve the immediate problem he was complaining about before being gently informed, by the instructor who was not an engineer, that the actual problem was irrelevant and could have been anything: the complaint was merely the employee’s vehicle of choice to indicate a much deeper dissatisfaction.  It was the role of a good manager to recognise this and solve the underlying issues and not immediately rush to address the immediate problem he walked in with.

I suspect what we’re seeing here with this video to Putin is the frustrations stemming from more deep-rooted issues coming to the fore: a contracting economy, stagnating quality of life, inflation, the effect of sanctions, corruption, gangsterism, and a whole host of other things which blight the lives of ordinary Russians.  Russians aren’t the kind of people who are unduly troubled by things like snowstorms and standing around freezing for 15 hours, nor do they have high performance expectations of the authorities.  Somebody is letting off some steam here.

This sort of thing bears watching because Russia’s government is brittle.  As Streetwise Professor helpfully explains, brittle does not mean weak: it means collapse, when it happens, occurs suddenly and unpredictably.  When brittle regimes collapse the catalyst is often something relatively small and unnoticed by most at the time.  The protests which led to the Iranian Revolution were triggered by the death of Mostafa Khomeini followed by an ill-advised article in a government newspaper denouncing him.  The ongoing situation in Syria transformed from protests to all-out civil war when authorities in the southern city of Daraa arrested and imprisoned 15 children for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school.  When they were released they showed physical signs of having been tortured, and the subsequent outrage turned protesters into armed opponents of the Assad government.  The Arab spring itself grew from protests over the prices of staple foods, particularly wheat in Egypt.  The Berlin Wall came down, taking East Germany with it, largely due to a mistake made by a government spokesman on TV.

It’s not that these events meant much in isolation, it is that they were the catalysts which triggered huge change in an already volatile situation.  The video sent to Putin by the trapped motorist is not such a catalyst, but it does strongly suggest that dissent is starting to appear in the massed ranks of ordinary Russians and that the underlying situation is more volatile than people think.  This video won’t change anything, but in the future a similar video might change everything overnight.  That is why I thought it worth mentioning.

Russia sanctions itself further

Not content with denying themselves the pleasures of French cheese and Norwegian salmon at prevailing (i.e. non-smuggled) market rates, the Russian government has now decided its citizenry doesn’t want to go on holiday to Turkey:

“Some things are more important than beaches, the sea and all-inclusive holidays,” anchorman Dmitry Kiselyov boomed in his influential weekly news round-up on state television.”

Such as the egos of politicians.

It’s the second popular destination to be banned in under a month. Flights to Egypt were halted in early November, following a terror attack on a plane full of Russian tourists.

When Egypt’s beaches became inaccessible, many Russians were re-directed to the Turkish coast.

And with the collapse of the rouble making Asia beyond the reach of most Russians, the number of holiday destinations from which they can pick is dwindling rapidly.

Still, people here seem broadly resigned to what has happened – even supportive.

“I think it’s the right response. Turkey has shown it’s a traitor,” said Andrei, taking a cigarette break from work, out in the snow.

Was Andrei planning on going to Turkey, then?  If not, his words are somewhat cheap.

Scheduled flights to Turkey are still running and the embassy stresses that Russian tourists are welcome. A spokesman said there were no plans to introduce visa requirements for Russians, despite Moscow doing that for Turks.

That’s because the Turks understood what Joan Robinson meant when she said “if your trading partner throws rocks into his harbor, that is no reason to throw rocks into your own”.

But any travel agencies caught selling Turkish tours have been warned they face sanctions.

Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency argues the ban will have a “hugely positive” impact on domestic tourism.

Well, yes.  The foreign travel policies of the USSR were also a great boon for domestic tourism too.  Just not from the point of view of the tourist.

Its head sees Russians opting for “staycations”, injecting their holiday funds into the local economy instead.

Opting to stay at home in the face of a ban on doing otherwise?  Some option.

They point to a lack of hotel capacity in Russia and poor infrastructure: “Patriotic” resort choices don’t generally offer the quality those who holiday abroad have grown used to.

No shit.

So travel agencies are offering them European destinations like Spain and Greece as alternatives – as well as Thailand and Vietnam.

Good luck with that Schengen visa process, folks!  Or the 13-hour flight plus a Thai baht which has doubled in value against the rouble in the past 2 years.

The business sanctions could hit Turkey much harder, albeit again at considerable expense to Russia:

Russia has announced a package of economic sanctions against Turkey over the shooting down of a Russian jet on the Syrian border on Tuesday.

A decree signed by President Vladimir Putin (in Russian) covers imports from Turkey, the work of Turkish companies in Russia and any Turkish nationals working for Russian companies.

A lot of the construction work in Russia – shopping centres, housing complexes, infrastructure – is carried out by Turkish companies, who exploit the fact that they can mobilise a sizeable, cheap workforce of their own countrymen to Russian cities which lack local expertise and manpower.  In short, Turkish companies have filled a gap in the market left open by Russians who either cannot do the work, or cannot do it at a competitive price*.  If these companies and their workers are now going to be booted out of Russia, future building works in that country are going to become very expensive or cancelled altogether.  I wonder how those Russians who have placed deposits on apartments in partially-completed developments being built by Turks feel right now?  Holidays destinations are probably the last thing on their minds.

*This reminds me of a joke, which I heard told by a young Russian man to answer a question some foreigners had put to him as to why it was so hard to do business in his country, and goes as follows.

A Russian city needs a bridge built, and so puts out a call for tender to three construction firms: German, Turkish, and Russian.  The Germans say they will build the bridge in 1 year and it will cost $20m.  The Turks say they will build the bridge in 2 years for $10m.  The Russians say they will build the bridge in 2 years for $50m.  The Head of Public Works in the city stares goggle-eyed at the Russian proposal, and brings in the company president to explain:

“How come your proposal is so high?” he asks.

The president of the Russian construction company smiles and says “$20m for me, $20m for you, and we’ll get the Turks to do it for $10m!”

Power cuts in Crimea

I’m surprised this didn’t happen earlier:

Three-quarters of Crimea’s population remain without power after four electricity pylons were blown up.

Gas-powered generators have been providing power to major cities. A state of emergency has been declared.

The pylons brought electricity from Ukraine. Engineers were reportedly denied access to the site by Ukrainian activists.

Crimea was annexed by Russia last year, but the Ukrainian authorities have continued to supply power to the area.

It spoke volumes of Ukrainian incompetence, real fears of an all-out invasion by Russia, or a combination of the two that Russia was able to take the Crimean peninsula so easily.  The Crimea is not accessible from Russia by road, and is dependent on Ukraine for both its electricity and water supplies.  Had Russia gone up against a different adversary, one would have expected to see both cut mere hours after the Russian takeover, and at the very least in the middle of the referendum which saw the population supposedly vote to become part of Russia.  I can only suppose that the Ukrainian authorities refrained from doing so because they feared it would be seized by Russia as an act of war and provide them with a handy excuse to mount a full-on invasion, helping themselves to more territory.

But it did occur to me at the time that the Ukrainians would simply not bother to maintain the infrastructure serving the Crimea.  They have no obligation to, I would have thought: presumably “independence” does not leave one dependent on the former power for vital services like water and electricity?  At some point, they’re going to have to get this stuff provided by Russia, but I suspect they’re going to be waiting a while.  There is little sign that the overpriced bridge they had planned will be realised any time soon, but they’ve put in place a temporary one which should at least alleviate some of the issues they’ve had with the ferries in the past.  So although I expected the water and electricity supplies to deteriorate, it hadn’t occurred to me that some pissed-off Ukrainians might decide to blow up some power lines and leave the Crimea in darkness.  This is clearly not state-sanctioned, and so there isn’t much Russia can do about it other than piss and moan.  But the Ukrainian activists seem to have stumbled upon a way of upsetting the Crimeans and the Russians, and it surprises me now that this didn’t happen a year ago.  I expect we’ll see more disruption to the electricity and water supplies in the future, especially if Russia starts cutting the gas off again.

Russia gets in The Game

There’s a scene in an episode of Season 1 of HBO’s The Wire where Wendell “Orlando” Blocker, a “clean” front man for the Barksdale gangsters’ club, is sitting in jail on drugs charges.  Orlando was on the books of the club precisely because he had no criminal record, but having seen the alleged glamorous lifestyle of the gangsters in his bar each night, he harboured ambitions of stepping up into drug dealing, or getting in “The Game” as the series’ characters called it.  The hapless Orlando gets busted trying to buy cocaine from an undercover policeman and gets tossed in jail, whereupon he calls the Barksdale gang’s dodgy lawyer Maurice Levy to get him out.

Unfortunately for Orlando, things didn’t go as he’d hoped.  Instead of bailing him out, Levy hands him documents transferring his liquor license and the club to somebody else, explaining that “a front has to be clean, and right now, you aren’t that”.  With Orlando sat in his cell facing a lengthy prison sentence, Levy leaves him with the remark:

“You wanted to be in the game. Now you’re in the game.”

I was reminded of this yesterday when I read that evidence is mounting that it was a bomb which brought down the Russian airliner earlier this week.

Perhaps the cornerstone of Putin’s foreign policy has been that Russia needs to get more assertive in global affairs, protect its interests abroad, and earn “respect” from the rest of the world as it takes its rightful (in Putin’s view) place at the top table alongside the USA.  In other words, Russia wanted to “get in the game”.  In this respect, Russia has been steadily increasing its assertiveness abroad, most obviously in Ukraine but more recently in Syria in support of Putin’s ally Bashar al-Assad, the country’s besieged president.

It ought not to have escaped Putin’s attention that while he envied America’s occupying the role of sole global superpower, as with all superpowers before them this position comes at a price.  9/11 did not happen because America enjoys baseball, they were targetted specifically because of America’s involvement in affairs outside its borders, particularly in the Middle East.  This was not the first time Americans have been attacked by people who don’t like their interference in Middle Eastern affairs: from the blowing up of the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Americans have been the target of terrorists ever since they themselves “got in the game”.  It has taken a while, but Americans have slowly hardened up to this.  Getting anywhere near an American embassy – even in a benign location like Singapore – is extremely difficult these days, and American companies, businessmen, and tourists are flooded with security advice which has led to an overall heightened awareness (which often borders on paranoia and results in abominations like the TSA, but that’s by the by).  The 9/11 attacks took advantage of a complacent American population where people hopped on and off planes as if they were buses and who (largely) cooperated with a couple of guys armed with box cutters because they had no idea what was about to happen next.  That all changed of course, and now many American interests probably make for “hard” targets whereas previously they were “soft”.

One would hope that Putin thought about this before he intervened with great fanfare in Syria, but in doing so he has now opened up Russia to terrorist attacks by the most fanatical people on the planet.  At home, Russia is probably geared up to deal with this: they inherited the security apparatus from the Soviet Union and have plenty of experience dealing with Chechen terrorism over the years, albeit with mixed results at first.  But abroad, Russia must look like a very ripe target for jihadists based overseas.  I’ve walked past Russian embassies and they are often protected by a crumbling breeze-block wall with a rusty coil of barbed wire fastened on top.  Several prominent Russian companies have offices overseas, not to mention thousands of tourists who concentrate themselves in a handful of locations.  Russia has got along so far by being the polar opposite of America, opposing whatever Uncle Sam was doing in the Middle East (and everywhere else) in a zero-sum game whereby what was good for America must, by definition, be bad for Russia and vice versa.

With their intervention in Syria, this is no longer the case.  Bashar al-Assad is detested by many, and the Gulf countries are fearful that an Assad-controlled Syria propped up by Russia and Iran could pose a serious threat to their own security.  For the first time in a long time, Russians are now seen as the bad guys by a whole swathe of the Middle East, and among their ranks are no shortage of nutcases – including ISIS.

If it turns out this Russian plane was indeed brought down by a bomb put aboard in Sharm el-Sheikh airport (a soft target if there ever was one), then there will probably be more such attacks, and Russia is ill-equipped to prevent them.  Maurice Levy’s parting words to Orlando ought to be ringing in Putin’s ears right now.

Visiting Russia just got Harder

I missed this, but late last year Russia introduced compulsory fingerprinting for all foreign visitors:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has ordered fingerprinting of foreigners as part of the processing of visas to enter the country.

The decree, signed by Putin, explained that the move hopes to help the application of law enforcement, tackle illegal immigration and prevent terror attacks.

Decree…hopes…terror attacks.  Hmmm.  How many terror attacks within Russia have been carried out by foreigners?  And when I hear the word “decree”, why is it that I immediately think of this store?

“It is expected that biometric data will be collected mainly at the visa centers, which would make it possible to avoid long queues at the Russian diplomatic missions where, as you know, people come not only to get a visa but to resolve many other issues as well,” Yevgeny Ivanov, head of the consular department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said.

Introducing new bureaucratic hoops will make it possible to avoid long queues?   More on that later.

The move comes after the Foreign Ministry proposed to introduce biometric data for foreigners entering Russia, in response to the EU’s proposed plan to take fingerprints of all Russians wishing to enter the Schengen area in Europe from 2015.

This is half the problem with Russian immigration laws: most of them are retaliatory.  Now I’m the last person to defend western immigration requirements, and the UK’s are as dumbassed as anywhere’s, but deciding to introduce additional hurdles for visitors to Russia in response to EU proposals is simply stupid.  Putin may not have noticed but his currency collapsed recently and the Russian economy – so dependent on imports – is in the shit.  One of the best ways to bring in hard currency is to get tourists to come and swap their Euros, Dollars, and Pounds for Rubles, and this will be much easier to do with a weak domestic currency.  Erecting barriers to make the entry of those tourists harder makes no sense whatsoever, but then Russians appear content with being poorer and less well-fed in return for being able to engage in ineffectual political posturing.

I heard about this new requirement because a British friend of mine is currently going through the visa application process, and had to go to the Russian embassy in person to get fingerprinted.  The agent advised that delays of up to an hour could be expected (so much for avoiding long queues), only when he got near the front of the queue the whole system packed up and he was told “to come back tomorrow”.  So far, so Russian.  Fortunately he lives in London and so this was easy enough, but anyone coming from say Manchester and visiting one of the two centres – located in Edinburgh and London – would have had to buy another train ticket or book a hotel, and take another day off work.

And this is where Russia is going badly wrong.  There are a handful of people who want to visit Russia, and they will go through this pantomime one way or the other.  But Russia loses out on the speculative tourists who plan to go “somewhere” and then look at their options.  A few years back another friend thought about going to St. Petersburg for a weekend and asked me what was involved.  By the time I had gotten halfway through the letter of invitation, the agent, the $100-$200 fee, the form-filling, the requirement to have a hotel booking, the registration on arrival, and the rest of it, he’d already said “Nah, forget it, I’ll go somewhere else” (and the fee has gone up since the fingerprint requirement came in).  So much of European travel is people looking for quick, easy breaks.  When people have a choice of Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Krakow and a dozens of smaller cities in Eastern Europe that they can visit without a visa, why would anyone who wasn’t specifically interested in Russia go there?  The Ukrainians figured this out back in 2005, and allowed EU citizens to enter the country visa free, thus adding Kiev to the list of cities above.  Perhaps more importantly, it meant Europeans could visit Ukraine’s prime holiday area in Crimea much more easily, and that played a large part in my decision to go there in the summer of that year.  Only now Europeans wishing to visit Crimea need a Russian visa, which can’t have done much for the visitor numbers.

So of all those people considering a trip to Russia, how many will decide it’s simply not worth the bother, especially if the price ends up including a return train fare, a hotel in London, and two days off work?  My guess is a lot.  Putin’s decree has made it as costly and as much effort just to obtain a Russian visa as it is to take an actual holiday to a neighbouring country which offers better service at cheaper rates to begin with.

Somebody, somewhere, obviously thinks this is smart.

This will have Ronald quaking in his boots!

Michael Jennings alerts me to a new business idea in Russia:

Russia has a grand plan to launch its own, patriotic fast-food chain to rival Western burger joints like McDonald’s and rescue its struggling farmers.

The $18-million initiative stems from brothers Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrei Konchalovsky, two of the country’s most famous film directors.

Both have poured scorn on Western influence in the past and are known for their close ties to the Kremlin.

The brothers have already picked a name for their brainchild: “Let’s Eat At Home!” (Edim Doma!)

Andrei Vorobyov, the governor of the Moscow region, has welcomed the project.

“It’s a good idea,” he said. “Small businesses and chains create jobs, and the food produced on our territory is perfectly suitable for these cafes.”

The deputy chairman of the regional government, Denis Butsayev, has already hailed the proposed chain as a “McDonald’s killer.”

“The goal of this project is to promote import substitution and create alternatives to Western fast-food chains,” the brothers wrote in their proposal, quoted by the Kommersant daily.

The brothers want to open 41 cafes in the Moscow and Kaluga regions, all supplied by local kitchens and factories. Up to 40 percent of the menu will be made from regional produce.

This is dumbassed on so many levels.  Firstly, as I mentioned here:

The primary beneficiary of McDonald’s in Russia are those Russians wishing to purchase its products, who number in the millions.

The secondary beneficiary of McDonald’s in Russia are the Russian owners (it is a franchise), managers, employees, and suppliers whose income derives from its operations.

Pinching customers from McDonald’s is unlikely to result in a boost for Russia at the expense of the west.

Secondly, Russians eat at McDonald’s because they like McDonald’s.  They don’t eat at McDonald’s because they cannot find cafes selling pel’meni and borsch to sate their hunger.  As has been proven in any country you care to mention – but let’s take France as a good example – you can easily find an alternative burger which is almost always better.  But something about the whole McDonald’s setup, i.e. not just the food, attracts people.  I suspect eating in McDonald’s for young Russians is, like in France, seen as a cool thing to be doing.  Good luck getting the kidz to buy into the idea that ordering buckweat washed down with kompot is now cool.  As the article points out:

McDonald’s remains hugely popular among Russians, despite a number of recent setbacks amid deepening tensions between Russia and the United States.

Thirdly, given the low probability of being able to compete with McDonald’s, if this scheme gets lanched it will likely take business away from the dozens and dozens of small, independent stolovayas and cafes that already sell Russian food using locally-sourced produce.  The knock-on effect will therefore be felt by their existing suppliers and probably result in some of the current alternatives to McDonald’s going out of business.

Fourthly, if prominent Russians wants to “rescue its struggling farmers”, “create alternatives to Western fast-food chains”, and “create jobs” then they might want to start by getting rid of the brazen gangsterism, thuggery, and corruption that infest the entire country and prevent these things happening of their own accord.  But no, this is Russia so:

The $18-million initiative stems from brothers Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrei Konchalovsky, two of the country’s most famous film directors.

Mikhalkov and Konchalovsky had reportedly called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to help secure government backing for the project in light of its “sociopolitical character.”

According to Kommersant, Putin had personally ordered Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich to “examine and support” the proposal.

Under the program, 70 percent of the sum is provided by banks under a state-guaranteed loan, with the remaining 30 percent coming from private investors.

State-controlled Sberbank has been touted as a potential lender.

[The government] rejected the brothers’ request for direct funding at a government meeting late on April 9, suggesting that the would-be entrepreneurs should instead seek funding through Russia’s existing scheme to support small businesses.

Instead we have two politically-connected multi-millionnaires looking for state-financing of their pet project whose major selling point is that it represents the type of crude patriotism that is currently in vogue with the President.  And although they appear to have had their appeal for direct funding rejected our multi-millionnaires, who were able to meet with Putin in person, have been advised to raid the state fund set up to assist small businesses.

I’m wondering how this project represents anything different in Russia, let alone an improvement.