You can have any car you want, as long as it's Russian, orders Putin

President-elect tells bureaucrats that they must support the nation's automotive industry

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The Independent Online

The frequent sightings of black Mercedes, with tinted windows and a flashing blue light, ferrying government officials to work through the dense Moscow traffic could soon be a thing of the past after Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin ordered that all bureaucrats should stop buying foreign-made cars.

"I believe that all state and municipal authorities, customers and companies who receive funding from the budget, should have to start buying cars produced on the territory of Russia and the Common Economic Area in the near future," said Mr Putin on a tour of a major car factory. The Common Economic Area is a customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

According to official statistics, between 2007 and 2009, Russian government bodies and state-controlled companies spent around £100m on luxury cars, while domestic car manufacturers such as Lada and Volga struggled.

It is not the first time that Russia has tried to curb top officials' expensive tastes when it comes to their wheels. Back in 1997, the Deputy Prime Minister, Boris Nemtsov, now one of the leaders of the opposition to Mr Putin, proposed to the then-President, Boris Yeltsin, that foreign luxury vehicles should be replaced with Volga sedans, the chunky status-symbol car that was used by top-ranking Soviet officials.

The resulting decree was largely ignored by bureaucrats, who seemed to feel that they needed an Audi at the very least, to reflect their elevated status.

Mr Putin has been a tireless champion of the Russian car industry, although his motorcade is made up of imported cars on a daily basis. But while the new move may boost local companies, there is a catch – "Russian-made" cars include any car assembled inside Russia, so don't expect Russia's leaders to be making their way to the Kremlin in a Zhiguli, the clanky, basic Lada model that has been in production for decades.

Russia has used high import tariffs to entice foreign car manufacturers to set up assembly plants inside the country, and although many of the factories are simply assembly points, theoretically it is now possible to buy "Russian-made" Peugeots, Fords and Hyundais. There are no Mercedes plants in the country yet, but BMW has an assembly plant in the Baltic city of Kaliningrad.

Mr Putin has tried in the past to promote Russian cars. In 2010, he drove more than 1,000 miles across Siberia in a canary-yellow Lada Kalina to promote the firm's new sports car, though the image was slightly spoilt by a video posted online by locals that showed the Lada being trailed by a motorcade of around 100 cars – most of them foreign-made.

It was also confirmed that the new ruling on domestically produced cars would not apply to Mr Putin himself or other top-rank officials.