“Clothing the Bear” and the Closing of Moscow’s Cherkizovsky Market


by Roman Kupchinsky

For many years the largest and most popular open air market in Moscow was the Cherkizovsky. Filled with kiosks selling cheap clothing, electronics, carpets and shoes manufactured in China; imported to Russia by Chinese traders, it more then met the demand of Moscovite consumers but also supplied markets in Russia’s outlaying regions where consumers were constantly on the prowl for a good deal, even before the world economic crisis hit.

“Cherkizovsky was the biggest market in Eastern Europe, a sprawling bazaar where an estimated 5,000 buses arrived at the market every day; filled with shuttle traders who would buy up cheap goods in bulk and take them back to smaller markets in towns and cities across European Russia.” Its closing on June 29, 2009 has now become an international scandal.

The market place employed some 80,000 Chinese and Vietnamese citizens, many of whom were illegal immigrants. It was also known as the place where narcotics could readily be bought at cut-rate prices and that the Russian mafia was involved in this trade.

For years the Russian customs service suspiciously overlooked what was being imported for sale at the market. Apparently officials of the customs service were instructed to turn a blind eye to the legality of the imports and were handsomely rewarded for their lack of diligence by the traders – and their own bosses – who also allegedly took bribes. How far the bribes went up the ladder has not been revealed yet, but some are speculating that Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov might be implicated.

When the market was closed, some $2 billion in goods were confiscated by officials from the Ministry of Internal affairs. What became of these goods is now being questioned by high level Chinese officials who arrived in Moscow to investigate the case. The suspicion is that the Russian MVD will soon sell these goods on the black market and make millions of dollars.

According to the newspaper Vedomosti, Chinese authorities are mostly upset by the fact that the market was shut down without proper prior notice. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs however, insists that the closing of the market was not a discriminatory act again Chinese nationals. Despite this, the Chinese press and websites are outraged. One Chinese website stated that Russia has turned into a “naked bear” which will freeze in the first frost without Chinese made apparel.

The Chinese delegation which arrived in Moscow to investigate the closing of the market placed the blame for creating shady customs schemes on the Russian customs service and, according to Vedomosti, are threatening to retaliate by possibly reviewing the recent agreement to extend a major credit to Russia’s Rosneft.

In the midst of this conflict, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was only able to ask why nobody had been arrested – as if he did not know who was responsible for the scams.