The Russian authorities are seriously counting on shuttle businessmen who travel to neighboring countries and obtain the necessary imported components in order to reduce pressure on domestic production and find scarce goods. Government authorities sometimes directly turn to such businessmen with requests that they "bring this or that product" from abroad. Western sanctions have radically rebuilt the Russian economy, which is now largely dependent on such enthusiasts and on various gray schemes with the help of Russia's closest neighbors, primarily Armenia, Kazakhstan and Turkey. The British Financial Times tells how the domestic economy managed to avoid a super-hard drawdown, take advantage of the cracks in the sanctions regime and create a whole layer of new businessmen.
The publication tells the story of Stanislav, a businessman who organized the supply of scarce goods from Europe to Russia through third countries. This is not even about some kind of secret or military electronics, but about the usual professional equipment needed for schools in Russia.
“It was bought as if for me, for personal use. However, in reality, this is pure smuggling,” Stanislav told the publication, being in Istanbul, surrounded by five suitcases of newly brought electronics.
The publication claims that this order was unusual for Stanislav, as he was used to working with professional goods for the construction industry, the supply of which was arranged through third countries in much larger volumes - trucks. The FT calls Stanislav a representative of a new stratum of wealthy Russians, born in connection with the sanctions - "specialists in import-export" of goods and services.
The new market is a product of sanctions bans, it is characterized by high price volatility and supply instability, as business conditions are regularly reviewed and tightened. The main transport hubs of the new market were mainly neighboring countries loyal to Russia - Armenia, Kazakhstan and Turkey. It is through them that the main share of gray imports, which in Russia is called “parallel”, passes. The schemes for circumventing sanctions are approximately the same: a Russian representative finds a partner in one of the countries loyal to Russia, agrees on the purchase of goods, after which the local company makes an increased order from its traditional partners with the expectation that part of it will go to Russia.
Western sanctions have collapsed imports to Russia by about 20-25%. Of the largest economies on the planet, only Turkey, India and China have increased their supplies since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Such distortions in supplies have led, for example, to the total dominance of Chinese manufacturers in the Russian car market. The high level of dependence on foreign components has led to the downtime of entire plants and the forced search for alternatives.
The replacement of foreign components, as a rule, affects the quality of the manufactured goods: production chains are degraded and simplified, as a result of which consumers receive goods of lower quality at the output. A striking example is office paper, which, due to the refusal of Western companies to supply the chemicals necessary for production, now has a brown tint. Economists note that the level of dependence of some industries on foreign components exceeded 50%.
“Life will become easier, there will be less money. People will have to moderate their appetites. There will be more paper in the sausage. And so it will be for about the next 15-20 years, until Putin dies. Fundamental changes should not be expected, ”one of the Russian oligarchs, who fell under Western sanctions, told the publication.
The oligarchs themselves, as the speaker said, are also adapting to new realities. Although Mercedes officially left Russia, this did not prevent him from buying two luxury Maybach cars from a German manufacturer at once - he plans to drive one himself, and bought the second for spare parts. His colleagues are confident that over time they will adapt to the restrictions and life will return to a relatively normal course. As confirmation, they cite Iran, which has been under sanctions for a long time, but was able to build all alternative supply chains and ceased to depend on the West.
Stanislav and his ilk rejoice, because for them the degradation of the Russian economy will lead to unprecedented incomes. If earlier such a business could not even be imagined, since no one would want to buy goods without an official guarantee, imported according to gray schemes, now, in the absence of alternatives, such supplies are in great demand.
“Now I can import this, I can import that like anyone else. For me, of course, it's interesting. The doors of opportunity are open,” says Stanislav.
However, high incomes are associated with high risks, including for potential Russian partners. For example, Armenian companies that decided to take a chance and capitalize on sanctions restrictions will now be under special control. Kazakhstan, for example, tightened the requirements for the supply of certain goods, which led to a "freeze" of supplies on the border with Russia.
“Some American companies are already refusing to ship goods to Armenia. They say: “Last year you only requested one license, but this year you have 100? Get the hell out!’” says the owner of one company who, like Stanislav, organizes the supply of imported goods to Russia in circumvention of sanctions.
It is especially difficult to organize a gray import of high-tech products, since these positions are under close control. At the same time, the demand within Russia for such products comes mainly from large players, for example, banks that need a large number of servers. Small players who organize gray supplies are simply unable to cover their requests.
In addition, the prospects are unclear: if the sanctions last 2-4 years, then it makes sense to pay double the price for a gray supply, notes one of the directors in a large IT company, but if the sanctions last much longer, then Russia should now switch to cheaper and more primitive Chinese technologies, while building their own production. He estimates the cost of creating an entire industry from scratch at about $50 billion a year for at least 10 years. And even with such volumes of investment, the result will not be guaranteed, he admits.
Western authorities have already imposed sanctions against several similar companies involved in deliveries for the Ministry of Defense. For the US and the EU, the key task now is to close such gaps in the sanctions regimes in order to reduce the potential for sanctions circumvention. In particular, Washington and Brussels have already put pressure on the Turkish authorities several times and threatened to take restrictive measures against Turkish companies in case of violation of the sanctions regimes.