Russian authorities have pledged millions of dollars to help two renowned film director brothers create a patriotic fast food chain to rival McDonalds, reports said Friday.
Russian RBK news website reported Friday that Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrei Konchalovsky had received a 700 million ruble ($13.8 million dollar) state-backed loan after writing to President Vladimir Putin for funding.
State television on Friday broadcast a long report lauding the project and saying Russians were tired of burgers, but news of the loan sparked allegations of cronyism.
Mikhalkov is the director of 1995 Oscar winner "Burnt By the Sun" while Konchalovsky had a string of awards from a long career in Hollywood before returning to Russia.
In the letter to Putin, the brothers said the goal of their enterprise was to help in "creating alternatives to western fast-food chains," according to Kommersant daily.
"Considering the sociopolitical character of the project... we ask that the Russian government is ordered to back this project," the letter said.
The chain -- which would consist of locations that combine a cafe and a deli shop -- would be called "Let's Eat at Home", which is the same name as a cooking show hosted by the actress wife of Konchalovsky.
Instead of Ronald McDonald's burgers, Russians could be tasting Russian favourites like borscht soup and pirozhki, a stuffed pastry, but no details of the chain's menus have yet been made public.
Konchalovsky told state-run Rossiya TV channel that he would try to source food purchases locally for 50 percent of the menu in a bid to help farmers.
"We want people to eat healthy and inexpensive food," he said in the report, which insisted domestic cuisine was becoming increasingly "trendy."
Russian officials have been accused of trying to fuel conservative nationalist sentiment as the crisis in Ukraine has sent Moscow's ties with the West tumbling to a post-Cold War low.
The project was immediately criticised as a blatant attempt to use political connections for personal enrichment and pushing out competitors.
"The state does not normally interfere in the catering industry," tweeted former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, saying the brothers' chain would "create more problems for Russian small business... than competition for McDonalds."
The US burger chain -- which has come under pressure from local authorities since the start of the Ukraine crisis -- has served as a beacon for some Russian officials who condemn it for foreign influence and poor health standards, although it actually sources 85 percent of its ingredients in Russia.
- Project 'reflects atmosphere' -
Efforts to make a home-grown chain that would compete with the American giant date as far back as the 1990s, when the eccentric Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov launched the brand "Russian Bistro".
The chain, though it enjoyed funding from the city of Moscow, fizzled out and disappeared after about a decade despite attempts to reinvigorate business with novelties like serving vodka.
The more successful chains, selling thin Russian-style pancakes and baked potatoes from small kiosks, were fully private initiatives.
Nikita Mikhalkov is an ardent supporter of President Vladimir Putin's conservative trend and his movies have enjoyed considerable state support.
The Mikhalkov family has been a firm part of the establishment throughout the changing political landscape, with the filmmakers' father Sergei Mikhalkov writing the words for both the Soviet anthem under Stalin and the current Russian anthem.
The project "precisely reflects today's atmosphere," wrote Vedomosti daily on Friday. "This is not import substitution, it is an attempt to move aside competitors with foreign-sounding names."
Morning news break - April 11