MTS (short for Mobile TeleSystems) operates in Russia, Belarus and Armenia providing telecommunications services to some 80 million subscribers.
In July 2022 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission delisted it from the New York Stock Exchange due to the sanctions.
Lenta.ru, a mainstream news site owned by the Russian government through a subsidiary of the Sberbank state bank, reported:
“MTS was the first company in Russia to present the iPhone 15 Pro Max in its flagship store a day before the start of global sales. … At the MTS presentation, store visitors were able to test the new product and receive detailed advice.”
That is true.
MTS presented the iPhone 15 on September 21, Russia’s business daily RBC’s correspondent reported from the MTS “flagman store in Moscow.”
All versions of iPhone 15 are also offered on MTS’ website for online orders using cash or the company’s loan system. The prices range from about 125,000 to 170,000 rubles, which, converted to U.S. dollars, are consistent with the price range in the United States.
On March 1, 2022, Apple announced that it suspended all sales of its products and services in Russia. So did more than a thousand Western companies in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Apple also stopped making apps for Russia’s state-owned media outlets RT News and Sputnik News available for download from its App Store outside Russia.
So, how is it possible that the U.S. high-tech giant’s latest upgrade of its iconic iPhone was present on the Russian market even before its global sales’ debut?
That is because of the “parallel imports” scheme the Russian government is using since March 2022 to avoid a shortage of goods in the domestic market.
The system, which was banned in Russia between 2002 and 2022, allows the import of some products into the country trough third countries without the copyright holder’s permission.
In April 2022, Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade issued a list of groups of goods and brands that could be imported into Russia without the permission of the copyright holder. It included electronics, Apple smartphones, furniture, watches, cars, ships, heating equipment, weapons, ammunition, and nuclear reactors.
On September 8, 2022, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov told the RIA Novosti state news agency that the iPhone 14, which Apple had presented the previous day, would be available in Russia under the parallel import program:
“Why not? If consumers want to purchase these phones, please do so. There will be such an opportunity.”
This past February, the U.S. Department of Commerce, in response to Russia’s “ongoing aggression against Ukraine,” expanded restrictions on exports to Russia to include restrictions on 276 “luxury goods” items. The export to Russia of smartphones worth over $300 was banned.
However, iPhone sales in Russia continued. According to the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti, at the end of the first two quarters of 2023, 1.1 million iPhones were imported into Russia — 15% more than in the same period in 2022 but half as much as during January-June 2021.
On September 12, Arabian Gulf Business Insight (AGBI), a London-based news website, reported that MTS and Russian online stores were already accepting pre-orders for the iPhone 15.
AGBI quoted Russian telecoms analyst Ilya Shatilin as saying the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong are “big parallel import markets” for iPhones on the Russian market, and that the smartphones arrive there “in bulk quantities.”
At the iPhone 15 presentation in Moscow on September 21, MTS representatives said that the new smartphones were coming to Russia from the UAE, China and “some other countries,” Russia’s RBC news site reported.
Apple did not respond to a Polygraph.info inquiry at the time of this writing.