Kremlin's stamp of quality gains force in Russia

MOSCOW, Oct 14, 2007 (AFP) -A growing number of companies in Russia are hoping to cash in on the country's most powerful political symbol with a new stamp of quality -- Purveyor to the Moscow Kremlin.

"It helps promote our product. It gives us a unique position on the market," said Vasily Dmitriyev, a spokesman for the company making the upmarket vodka Russky Brilliant.

Adverts for the gem-shaped bottles of vodka -- the name translates as Russian Diamond -- sport the title "Official Purveyor to the Moscow Kremlin" on billboards around the country.

The vodka was awarded the title last year after quality checks and an undisclosed payment to the Guild of Purveyors of the Moscow Kremlin, a non-governmental organisation set up in 2004.

Boosting Russia's reputation as a purveyor of quality goods is essential to end the country's dependence on oil exports, said Igor Pototsky, deputy director of the guild, speaking in his offices in an ornate Moscow palace.

"The Russian economy wants to be competitive but if it can't compete on quality, it'll depend on energy prices," he said.

"It helps sales and the company's internal policies" by enforcing new environmental and quality standards that are more stringent than those normally required by Russian authorities, Pototsky said.

In 2005, nine companies -- both Russian and foreign -- obtained the title of purveyors to the Moscow Kremlin. In 2007, 17 companies were awarded the title at a lavish ceremony in the Kremlin.

The title does not mean that President Vladimir Putin himself uses the products but is intended to carry associations from Soviet times when the Kremlin elites were supplied with high-quality products, Pototsky said.

"It's clear that in our society the Kremlin is the elite. It's the top.... This premium value can be attractive for the masses," said one top Moscow advertising expert, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The much sought-after title of "Purveyors to the Court of His Imperial Highness" existed in Russia in Tsarist times but was abolished after the Communist revolution.

The concept was brought back as part of a general revival of Tsarist-era symbolism that has taken place under Putin. "There are some things that shouldn't disappear," Pototsky said.

Heineken, a Dutch beer maker that bought a historic brewery in Saint Petersburg that once supplied Russia's Tsars, joined the guild last year.

"Heineken Russia is proud to revive the old historic tradition and become an official purveyor of the Kremlin," the company said in a statement.

The list of purveyors is a bizarre collection, including a distributor of Bulgarian hair products, a Greek wine maker, a Dutch-Russian rose farm and a producer of high-precision measuring devices.

Natalya Dromova, a spokeswoman for BRK Cosmetics, seemed unphased by her company being awarded the title earlier this year, though she said that the Kremlin stamp would be used on the products.

"Our VIP Prestige hair dye is already popular. We already have a position on the market. The fact that we are a purveyor is just a confirmation of our position on the market," Dromova said.

For those consumers who might have indulged a little too much on their Kremlin-branded products, there is even a solution available that is billed as coming from within the Kremlin's hallowed walls.

Russian tabloids advertise "Kremlin pills" as a cure for many ailments.

"This once secret medicine, an autonomous electro-stimulator that once cured the elite of the Communist Party of the USSR has now become available to the wider public," reads the advert for the pill.

To bring the point home, the slogan reads: "The Kremlin pill will cure you."by Dario Thuburn

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