* Putin aims to boost domestic industry amid sanctions
* Some foreign cars assembled in Russia
* Many state officials like upmarket foreign models
By Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW, July 15 Top Russian officials may soon
forfeit the sleek black Mercedes limousines that speed them
through the Kremlin gates in favour of home-produced cars as
part of a push to protect domestic industry threatened by
Western sanctions over Ukraine.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he had signed an order
limiting purchase of imported cars for state and municipal
officials - a move in line with Vladimir Putin's bid to increase
self-reliance from engineering to defence, but carrying more
symbolic than commercial importance.
Many Western cars are now assembled in Russia, but not the
Mercedes limousine, the car of choice for many government
officials and often used by President Putin.
In Soviet times, homemade limousines such as the ZiL and for
lesser officials, the Volga were de rigeur. These have now
largely vanished from the streets, to the chagrin of some who
see profligacy and a lack of patriotism in the preference.
To address the concerns, domestic producers Sollers
, Kamaz and GAZ have been asked to
design a car for government officials by the end of the year
under a project known as "Cortege".
"We have drafted a resolution that bans the state and
municipal purchase of certain types of foreign-made equipment
and vehicles, notably such conspicuous issues as the purchase of
vehicles for officials," the government's website quoted
Medvedev as telling deputy ministers at a meeting on Monday.
"I hope this will help maintain the necessary balance on the
market and ultimately satisfy the demand for these services."
Auto experts said the decision was largely symbolic as many
foreign producers, such as Volkswagen, BMW, Renault, Nissan,
General Motors, Hyundai, and Peugeot-Citroen,
Toyota and Mitsubishi, are already assembling
their cars in Russia.
"This will not influence the market at all, it is a
political decision," said Vladimir Bespalov, an analyst with
Moscow-based VTB Capital, putting the share of state-funded car
purchases at less that 3 percent of the market.
Putin has urged domestic companies, including arms
manufacturers, to increasingly use local products and cut out
the use of foreign components that could be hit by U.S. and EU
sanctions over a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
He has tried to promote Russian cars before, for instance by
driving a yellow Lada Kalina Sport over the Chinese border in
($1 = 34.3720 Russian Roubles)
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; additional reporting by Gleb
Stolyarov; editing by Ralph Boulton)