Two years after Apple quit Russia over Ukraine, Vision Pros are for sale in Moscow – DollarJob

Two years after Apple quit Russia over Ukraine, Vision Pros are for sale in Moscow

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At one re:Store location in Moscow, clerks offer by-appointment demonstrations of the new goggles, and the cheapest model Vision Pro is offered at about $6,307 — more than 57 percent higher than its retail price in the US.

Just one day after CEO Tim Cook took part in a splashy launch of the Apple Vision Pro at the company’s flagship store in New York, a well-known Russian tech blogger who goes by “Romance768” posted a video to his more than one million followers, showing him unboxing his own Apple headset and demonstrating how it works.

A few days later, he posted a video offering his opinions on the device as he walked through the posh Moscow district of Patriarshiye.

Seated in a restaurant, he tells viewers that even though he has the volume all the way up, customers near him can’t hear anything. He shows himself testing the device at the re:Store shop in Moscow’s shopping mall called “GUM,” located adjacent to Red Square, across from the Kremlin. 

The blogger’s real-world name is Sergey Romantsev. In an email exchange with CNBC, he explained how he got the Vision Pro in Moscow so quickly: “There’s nothing complicated about it,” he wrote, saying his team placed a pre-order for the device in New York. “The person received it on the day of the start of sales and immediately flew to Moscow,” Romantsev wrote. “Through New York, Istanbul, Moscow, we brought Vision very quickly.”

He explained that Apple devices, though expensive, are available in Russia. “Officially, Apple does not sell anything in Russia. Russian companies buy equipment in other countries and bring it to their stores. This has led to a huge increase in prices. So Vision Pro in Moscow costs not $3,500 but $5,000.”

But some consumers, at least, are willing to pay that price: “Apple is very popular in Russia and we keep an eye on all new products,” Romantsev wrote. “We are trying to get them. It’s difficult.” 

He said he has no difficulty operating his Vision Pro in Russia. But it’s a different picture with the competing American product from Meta, the Meta Quest 3.

In 2022, a Russian court banned Facebook and Instagram from the country after Meta loosened its policies on hate speech toward Russian soldiers in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Meta is recognized as an extremist organization in Russia,” Romantsev wrote. “Meta servers are blocked in Russia. To activate Quest 3, you need to install a VPN on your home WiFi. There are also a lot of restrictions, since constant work via VPN is very difficult.” A Meta spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

None of this has happened by accident. The Russian government has done what it can to ensure that many western products continue to flow into the country. In 2022, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade issued a document permitting Apple products to be imported to Russia even when official supplies to Russia are banned or suspended by the manufacturer.

In Russia, this is known as “parallel import.” The exact supply chain feeding this demand is unclear, but likely involves former Soviet republics or Middle Eastern import export businesses. 

Back in 2022, Apple laid out a specific set of steps it would take to dial back its business in Russia. The company said it had “paused” all product sales in Russia an stopped all exports into Apple’s sales channel in country. The company said it removed Russian state-controlled media outlets RT News and Sputnik News from the App Store outside of Russia, and limited Apple Pay and other services. 

Some internet activists in 2022 urged American tech firms to continue to supply Russian customers with the tools they need to access information on the open internet, and especially messaging apps such as Telegram, WhatsApp and Threema.

But even before it pulled out of the country in 2022, Apple had struggled to balance open access with the demands of the Russian government. According to media reports, the company deleted an app associated with the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian prison this week, and agreed to promote Russian state operated apps in the country. An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the moves. 

For all that, the continued sales of Apple’s consumer focused products in Russia are not likely to raise eyebrows in Washington. “We’re focused on disrupting Russia’s procurement of items for the military industrial base,” a White House official told CNBC.

“In general, we don’t have a comprehensive trade embargo in place and there are exceptions for many communications-related devices across our sanctions and export controls, as long as they aren’t going to sanctioned Russian end users,” the official said.

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