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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Markets Unable To Find Vendors

Itar-TassAn OMON police officer checking documents last week at Kaluzhskaya Yarmarka, a market in southern Moscow.
It was a bad week for Moscow's markets.

Seven days after new rules barring foreigners came into force, a silent panic was noticeable at many of the city's sprawling food and clothing markets.

Thousands of small shops and stalls are standing empty, and prices on some goods have increased sharply. At some markets, exotic fruit like rosy apples, pears, peaches and pomegranates have disappeared altogether with their foreign vendors.

City Hall, however, insisted that prices were stable and that the rules were having little effect on the markets. The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has warned that the changes, implemented nationwide on April 1, could hit the economy.

A few Slavic-looking merchants dotted the cavernous Cheryomushkinsky market in southwest Moscow over the weekend, selling cabbage, carrots and chicken legs.

Maruf Yusupov, an Uzbek who vowed a week earlier to stay put, stood near the entrance -- but without his pyramids of red tomatoes and persimmons.

"They see us as outlaws, and we did nothing criminal other than sell goods that the Russians refused to sell," said Yusupov, who is now a security guard at the market.

The number of shoppers seems to have dwindled as well.

"Where can we buy spices for our special dishes?" said Luara Tkebuchava, a Moscow resident of Georgian origin who was wandering around the empty stalls. "This used to be a specialized market selling ingredients and seasoning for Caucasus dishes."

Luara said prices had increased by about 10 percent over the previous week, but hoped this might be linked to Easter.

At the Danilovsky market in central Moscow, row after row of empty stalls looked a bit like a graveyard. Shoppers were few and far between. Several elderly women stood near the entrance, offering a meager assortment of pickles and vegetables.

A printed notice hung from the entrance, appealing to farmers with Moscow registration to please come forward. Beside it, another notice reminded foreigners that they were not welcome after April 1.

Inside the huge domed market, where most of the stall holders used to be from Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, some Slavic faces could be seen behind stalls selling pickles, honey and a few homegrown vegetables.

Tamara from Dmitrov, near Moscow, said she was in the city to sell food from her garden. All she had to offer -- cucumbers, a few other vegetables and jars of jams -- barely covered one-third of her stall.

"I'm doing this to supplement my meager pension," she said. "But I'm already tired of standing here because sales have been very slow."

The sprawling Metro Universitet outdoor market was a ghost town Saturday. Corrugated sheets that once provided cover for stalls were strewn about in careless abandon. Market administrators were nowhere to be seen. Roman, an Azeri national who refused to give his last name, sat in the administrator's office, fidgeting with a mobile phone.

"I'm a security guard here, and I can't comment on the implementation of any law," Roman said.

"As you can see," he added, "there are no Russian farmers, and no foreigners either."

City officials, nonetheless, said nothing catastrophic would result from the implementation of the new rules. At a City Hall meeting titled "On Measures for Attracting Migrant Workers" on Wednesday, the city official in charge of retail markets, Vladimir Malyshkov, said about 10,000 stalls were now vacant, 3,000 of which had been left since April 1, according to Alliance Media, an organization of the city's small and medium-size businesses. The other 7,000, Malyshkov said, were left on Jan. 15, when the first phase of the new rules came into force.

Malyshkov, however, said the situation "has had little effect on sales," and stressed that there was no break in supply or reduction in the assortment of goods being sold.

On Tuesday, Mayor Yury Luzhkov said in televised remarks that apart from a small reduction in the assortment of goods, prices had remained stable after April 1. He noted, however, that it was difficult to find farmers to come to the markets, saying they were too busy at their farms.

Handwritten notices inviting Russian farmers to sell their produce hung on every other stall at the Vykhino market in southeast Moscow. Workers busily tore down stalls at the front Saturday, while a few people sold meat and sugar.

"They've been given their marching orders, and that's why they are packing up," Andrei, a wholesale seller of potatoes from the Moscow region, said of the foreign merchants. "Order is order, there's nothing you can do about it."

At the Preobrazhensky market, which used to have many merchants from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan selling grapes, tangerines and tomatoes, Alevtina complained about a lack of goods. "A price hike is not the problem. I simply don't see enough groceries around to put a price on here," the middle-aged Muscovite said, adding that she regularly shopped at the market.

About half the stalls selling clothes and nuts at the Dmitrovsky market in north Moscow appeared to be empty. Merchants said police were checking for documents often.

The merchants left at the Leningradsky market, also in north Moscow, offered assurances that prices had not gone up.

A few Azeri traders could be seen at the market Friday, hastily trying to sell their last goods before leaving for Azerbaijan. They were reluctant to talk to a reporter.