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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Commentary

Putin puts Russians on a Soviet diet


Published:

Goodbye, Roquefort cheese, feta, prosciutto and jamon. So long, German raspberry jam, U.S.-made Planters nut mixes, Norwegian salmon and Faroese shrimp. In his efforts to hit back at the West, President Vladimir Putin is depriving Russians of the delicacies to which they have grown accustomed since the Soviet Union collapsed.

On Putin’s orders, the Russian government Thursday banned the import of certain kinds of European, U.S., Canadian and Australian food for a year in response to those countries’ Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia. Unlike Western governments, Putin is not concerned about minimizing the effect of sanctions on his own country’s businesses. The measures will hurt Russian retailers and importers as much as Western exporters. The embargo appears focused on products that Russia can source internally or from friendlier countries. It includes all kinds of dairy, fruit and vegetables, meat and seafood. Parmesan cheese is banned, but Italian olive oil isn’t. German sausage is out, but German beer can still be imported. French foie gras is out, but Sauternes is in. Irish cheddar will be gone from the few stores that sell it, but Irish whiskey will still be served in Moscow bars.

Putin appears to care little about the effect of the sanctions. His focus is, as ever, domestic. He is showing his voters in the most tangible way possible that Russia doesn’t need the West to survive.

Blanket-bombed by the state TV channels, most Russians will swallow the patriotic line. To the few propaganda-resistant citizens, the food embargo is another step toward the Soviet era of self-reliance. They’ve been stocking up on the last French cheese they’re going to see for at least a year and chuckling at the latest Putin joke: “The president decided to show he’s a Western leader, too, and imposed sanctions on Russia.”

Leonid Bershidsky is a Moscow-based writer.

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