Pro-Putin rapper reopens former Starbucks cafes in Russia

A pro-Putin rapper has reopened the coffee shop chain formerly owned by Starbucks under the new name Stars Coffee, the latest high-profile rebranding by a major Western chain following an unprecedented corporate divestment from Russia.

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

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

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Dozens of Western companies have since agreed to sell their assets at deep discounts to pro-Kremlin Russian businessmen. Russian authorities have actively encouraged the takeovers to comfort ordinary Russians that they can continue living the Western lifestyle amid the country’s growing isolation.

Timati, real name Timur Yunusov, was a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as a self-proclaimed friend of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

In 2015, the rapper released a song titled My Best Friend is Vladimir Putin, which 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 by a Western grocery chain, after former McDonald’s restaurants resumed operations under the new name Vkusno & tochka (‘Yummy and that’s it’).

Vkusno & Tochka has since been hampered by Western sanctions and struggled to maintain its old menu, forcing the company to temporarily stop serving its signature fries and potato wedges.

It wasn’t immediately clear what would be on the new coffee chain’s menu.

Shortly after acquiring 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! ”