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Pro-Putin rapper reopens former Starbucks coffee shops in Russia

Rapper Timur Yunusov, known as Timati, with a Stars Coffee cup
Rapper Timur Yunusov, known as Timati, with a Stars Coffee cup. He once released a song called My Best Friend is Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Dmitry Serebryakov/AP

A pro-Putin rapper has reopened the chain of coffee shops formerly owned by Starbucks under a new name, Stars Coffee, the latest high-profile rebranding of a major western chain after an unprecedented corporate exodus from Russia.

On Thursday, the rapper Timati and restaurateur Anton Pinskiy, the duo that acquired the rights to the chain in Russia, attended the opening of the first of the 130 cafes previously owned by Starbucks. During the opening in central Moscow, the pair also revealed the chain’s new logo, which replaces Starbucks’s iconic siren with a woman wearing the traditional Russian kokoshnik headdress, but is otherwise fairly similar.

Seattle-based Starbucks announced in May it was exiting the Russian market after nearly 15 years as it joined hundreds of other major western brands that have left the country following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dozens of western companies have since agreed to sell their assets to Kremlin-friendly Russian businesspeople, at steep discounts. The Russian authorities have been actively encouraging the takeovers, intended to comfort ordinary Russians that they can continue to live western lifestyles amid the country’s growing isolation.

Timati, whose real name is Timur Yunusov, has been a vocal supporter of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as well as a self-described friend of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

In 2015, the rapper released a song entitled My Best Friend is Vladimir Putin that describes the president as a “superhero”. Timati was also behind a pro-government song called Moscow, in which he boasted that the Russian capital “doesn’t hold gay parades”. It became the most “disliked” song in the history of Russian YouTube.

The reopening of Starbucks marks the second-high profile rebranding of a western food chain after former McDonald’s restaurants restarted their operations under a new name, Vkusno & tochka (“Tasty and that’s it”).

Vkusno & tochka has since been hindered by western sanctions, and has struggled to preserve its old menu, forcing the firm to temporarily stop serving its signature fries and potato wedges.

It was not immediately clear what will be on the menu of the new coffee chain.

Shortly after the acquisition of Starbucks in Russia, Timati vowed not to “disappoint the millions of coffee lovers” in the country: “We have a chance not just to change the sign, but to make a real live case of a cool import substitution!”

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