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Keyboard Shortage Unfolds in Russia

'Parallel imports' cannot bring keyboards with Russian letters to Russia.

Now that most well-known high-tech companies have ceased to ship their products to Russia, there is a shortage of everything in the country — from smartphones to high-end storage systems and laptops to servers. But apparently, there is a product category you never expect to be in short supply — keyboards with a Russian layout.

Since big PC makers like Apple, Dell, HP, and Lenovo, as well as major suppliers of PC peripherals like Logitech, have officially ceased to do business in Russia, the country adopted its so-called ‘parallel imports’ scheme that allows imports of products from foreign markets without approval from trademark owners, reports The Moscow Times(opens in new tab) (via ExtremeTech(opens in new tab)). To get a new PC or a keyboard into Russia, a distributor can now buy it in China, Serbia, Turkey, or the United Arab Emirates and have it shipped to the country.

Traditionally, grey imports work for average individuals who want to save money or get something before it is officially out in a particular country, but such products usually lack localization. In the case of desktops, notebooks, and keyboards, this means the lack of engraved Russian letters. For obvious reasons, people in China or Turkey do not use Russian letters, so products from those countries lack a Russian layout.

The Industry and Trade Ministry reported that vendors could engrave Russian letters on keyboards in the country, which would not substantially affect the product’s price. According to a Kommersant(opens in new tab) source at a notebook maker, however, engraving may cost as much as $32.

While it is possible to engrave letters on desktop keyboards on an industrial scale since there are loads of identical keyboards and keys usually have the same size, it is nearly impossible to engrave letters on notebook keyboards industrially since there are hundreds of different laptop models with different keyboards. Furthermore, the only way to add Russian letters for a small or medium retailer is to put stickers with Russian letters on keyboards with a different layout. Whether engraving or pasting a sticker requires unpacking the product (this way, end-users might think that they are buying a used device) and sometimes removing the keyboard (which voids the warranty and adds to the cost).

While there are some volume PC assembly operations in Russia, it turns out that nobody makes keyboards in the country, so there are not enough keyboards with Russian letters, even for government organizations.

“There are problems with supplying automated workstations [with Russian keyboard layouts] to departments as part of contracts that had already been signed,” an anonymous government source told Kommersant. “The terms of the tenders prohibit contractors from delivering workstations without a keyboard or with an English keyboard layout.”

One of the ironic things about keyboards and laptops with a Russian layout is that they are available in most ex-USSR countries (including Ukraine). Still, while certain resellers in countries like Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan may be willing to trade with Russia, they naturally will not be able to ship volumes the country requires. There were 1.4 million laptops and 2 million keyboards sold in Russian retail alone in 1H 2021, according to M. Video – Eldorado, a prominent Russian retailer.

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