Russia to open duty-free shops selling Western imports to foreign diplomats | Russia

Russia will introduce duty-free shops selling Western imports to diplomats for foreign currency in a practice that will remind many Russians of the infamous beryozka stores that embodied official privilege in Soviet times.

The stores, which could open as early as the fall, will sell imported products that may become hard to find in ordinary Russian stores as foreign brands flee the country due to the war in Ukraine.

But to make a purchase, visitors will need to provide an official document proving that they are a foreign diplomat, an employee of an international organization or a family member. And stores will also accept payments in dollars and euros, mimicking the beryozka the function of stores as magnets for foreign currencies.

“It’s a total USSR!” wrote Sergei Smirnov, editor of Russian media outlet Mediazona, who wrote about the legislation after it was announced in Russia’s official parliamentary newspaper.

Western brands have already become harder to find in many stores in Russia. Shoppers flocked to stores owned by big brands like H&M as the Swedish clothing retailer reopened this week in one last sale of its inventory before leaving the country for good.

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The duty-free shops will be owned by a company set up by the Russian Foreign Ministry and another entity chosen through a competition. The stores’ products will include alcohol, tobacco products, jewelry, cosmetics, perfumes and candies, as well as smartphones and watches, Mediazona reported.

It is not yet clear whether electronics will include products such as iPhones, which are no longer directly imported into Russia.

The Foreign Office has been considering opening a duty-free shop for foreign diplomats since at least 2015, after Russia banned many European food imports as part of its counter-sanctions program following the annexation of Crimea , according to Russian media.

In a 2014 letter obtained by Russian news site, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the stores would help reduce “financial losses and delays” associated with delivering goods to foreign diplomatic missions in Russia, Radio Free Europe reported.

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