As announced on their website, the "Mere" retail chain owned by the Russian capital company "Svetofor" has 26 stores in Lithuania and continues to operate after the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to experts, the continuity of the company is determined by the non-competitive Lithuanian market and the lack of activity sanctioning. At that time, the authorities assured that in order to limit the activities of "Mere", bans would be needed throughout the European Union (EU).

Although the "Mere" stores are managed by UAB "Valientė", a company established in Lithuania, the management of "Svetofor" itself is located in Krasnoyarsk.

Recently, not only the shopping network itself, but also the product price comparison platform Pricer.lt, which communicates about it, has received criticism from the public. After the large-scale invasion of Ukraine began, "Pricer.lt" shared "Mere" as an example of a successful business.

"Mere is currently the fastest growing retail chain and looks set to become a significant player in a couple of years at this rate." Despite the fact that it has Russian capital, sells Russian and Belarusian goods, does not have a stable assortment, it is located in inconvenient places. But it ensures low prices for buyers and transparent and simple conditions for suppliers," reads the Pricer.lt press release sent last February.

However, the representatives of this platform assure that in their publications they raise the issue of the geopolitical context and point out that users usually think about the issue of survival, not morality.

"First of all, we are talking about the fact that there is such a problem. As if it should be out of patriotism not to shop there, but it is. On the other hand, their business model is efficient enough," Pricer.lt representative Artūras Vizickas said to Eltai.

He assured that the platform does not have any commercial relations or contracts with "Mere" (UAB "Valientė") and "does not praise them as hosts". However, according to A. Vizickas, Pricer.lt's field of work is retail trade, so they must also describe the case of the Mere store chain. 

According to A. Vizickas, the success of this network in the country is determined by the non-competitive Lithuanian market.

"It's one of the networks that is showing low prices today, and maybe we're only paying attention to it because there are gaps between our own networks." If the market were competitive, there would be no place for such a network," he assured.

There are no regulatory restrictions

The representative of "Pricer.lt" emphasized that consumers no longer think about the origin of the retail chain when they see low prices. According to him, "Mere" operates completely legally in Lithuania, and the decision regarding relations with Russia is in the hands of consumers and the retail chain itself. "Pricer.lt" assures that this regulation should be ensured by the government.

"There is no clear definition of what is acceptable today in relations with Russian business, what is unacceptable and it is left in the gray zone," A. Vizickas told Elta.

According to him, this business has already found a niche in the Lithuanian market, so if there are no strict regulations or competitive prices, "Mere" has prospects for further expansion.

"If he has such prospects, the consumer makes a choice that he needs to survive and goes to such a retail network. And suppliers, who also have a question about where to sell their products, see this as a solution. In all our publications, we simply describe this phenomenon", emphasized A. Vizickas.

Petras Čapkauskas, head of the food division of Pricer.lt, also agreed with my colleague's opinion that there is a lack of strict regulations for Russian businesses. He emphasized the fact that written publications not only describe business success, but also criticize that such a network is allowed to expand.

"Read my articles, what I wrote. They are critical of the authorities, as they allow these things," said P. Čapkauskas to Elta.

ELCA tried to contact the representatives of the "Mere" retail chain, but they refused to comment on the situation.

"Tied hands"

Although experts criticize the representatives of the authorities, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, chairman of the National Security and Defense Committee (NSDK), assured that the activity of this company in Lithuania could be limited only if it was decided to ban the activities of all Russian capital companies in the European Union (EU).

"I would really like to consolidate, we need to find ways. However, our hands are tied", L. Kasčiūnas commented on the situation.

"Lithuania has delegated economic sanctions to the European Union. Those who fall under those sanctions, we can uproot them and limit their activities. Trade in food products and household goods is not included in the list of EU sanctions. This limits us very much," he added.

According to the NSGK chairman, economic sanctions are an area of ​​the EU, so even though Lithuania is constantly trying to tighten sanctions, not all areas can be agreed upon.

"Countries are no longer pressing the gas pedal," said L. Kasčiūnas, considering the situation in the corridors of Brussels.

In the West, shops are closed after the invasion of Ukraine

Although Mere opened its first store in the United Kingdom back in 2021, all stores in this chain were closed after Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Similar situations occurred in Belgium and Spain.

At a time Ukraine Svetofor and Mere were added to the list of sanctioned companies even before the start of the war because of the network's active activities in occupied Crimea.

Currently, Mere stores in Europe operate in Lithuania, Romania, Belarus, in Poland, in Latvia, in the Czech Republic, Greece and Serbia.

However, although the development of the retail network in the West was unsuccessful, "Verslo žinios" announces that "Mere" is trying to expand again. But this time with a different name - MyPrice. The website, which operates in five languages ​​- Dutch, English, French, German and Russian - states that the company operates in ten European countries, but does not name them specifically.

Martyna Pikelytė (ELTA)

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