British PC supplier, Essex-based Hi-Grade, has set up a subsidiary in Moscow.

The new company, Hi-Grade Ru, was publicly unveiled at a ceremony in the Russian Federation Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, attended by former prime minister Andre Primakov, now chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

During the ceremony, Ori Yiassoumis, managing director of Hi-Grade UK, donated 10 notebook PCs to a homeless children's charity of which Primakov is also a director. Larissa Vladimirova, Primakov's trusted aide and his personal assistant while foreign minister and prime minister, will be a director of the new PC company.

The company will initially concentrate on building and selling Hi-Grade Notino and Ultinote notebook PCs costing $1,600 to $2,400 (£1,019 to £1,529). Components will be purchased by Hi-Grade in the UK and shipped to Moscow for assembly. Next year Hi-Grade Ru plans to build and support network servers for the Russian science city of Dubna, said Yiassoumis.

Despite a population of 146 million, market research firm Dataquest reports that the Russian Federation PC market is relatively small — just 37 percent the size of the UK market. However, it is growing rapidly. Hi-Grade is gambling on that growth being in mobile and wireless technologies, leapfrogging the desktop phase seen in the last two decades in the US and western Europe.

Hi-Grade Ru will make semi-ruggedised notebooks (ideal for lugging along Moscow's potholed roads) while other models will have sealed keyboards that won’t be ruined by accidental vodka spillages. They will be sold with a two-year international warranty and a two-year buy-back upgrade option.

Primakov was prime minister of Russia from September 98 until May 99. Prior to that he served as foreign minister to Boris Yeltsin and was one of few politicians to emerge from that regime with his integrity intact. Political commentators in Russia credit Primakov as the man who put current president, Vladimir Putin, in office.