Russia bans Western food imports in response to sanctions

Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev Dmitry Medvedev, has confirmed Russia’s ban on food imports from several Western countries that have imposed economic sanctions on the Kremlin.

The ban will apply to fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy imports from the US, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway, Medvedev told a government meeting on Thursday.

Medvedev said the ban was effective immediately and would last for one year, and does not cover baby food or products that people buy while abroad in the countries affected by the import ban.

Russian officials were on Wednesday asked to come up with a list of western agricultural products and raw materials to be banned.

The agriculture minister, Nikolai Fyodorov, said that greater quantities of Brazilian meat and New Zealand cheese would be imported to offset the newly prohibited items. He added Moscow was in talks with Belarus and Kazakhstan to prevent the banned western foodstuffs being exported to Russia from the two countries.

The Kremlin’s move comes in response to the grounding of the budget airline subsidiary of Aeroflot as a result of EU sanctions over Moscow’s support for rebels in Ukraine. Medvedev also said officials were considering a ban on European airlines flying to Asia over Siberia.

EU countries and the US last week stepped up punitive action against Russia in response to Moscow’s support for eastern separatists in Ukraine, which has been unwavering despite the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17.

Russia’s state-owned banks have been cut off from Europe’s capital markets, while its defence and energy firms will no longer be able to import hi-tech western equipment that could have been used for military purposes, fracking or Arctic oil exploration.

The moves are the latest sign of defiance from the Kremlin in the face of growing Western pressure to end its support for pro-Russia separatists fighting in Ukraine. By targeting imported foods, the Kremlin is sending the message that the country is ready to make sacrifices in order to stand up to the West.

At the same time, the import bans will have a limited impact on the bulk of Russia’s population, which relies mainly on domestic foods and imports from other former Soviet countries. Wealthier urbanites, who depend more on Western imports, aren’t a central part of Mr. Putin’s political base. Nonetheless, economists say the government will have to manage the restrictions carefully to avoid a broader surge in inflation, which could become politically sensitive.

The food ban would hit farmers in Eastern Europe, and while Russia is Europe’s second-largest market for food and drink, commentators says this would have little impact on the EU’s overall economy. The EU last year exported €8.8 billion ($11.79 billion) in food and live animals to Russia, according to Eurostat, a tiny fraction of the bloc’s overall exports.

The UK is less likely to lose out; in 2013, its biggest food and drink export was £17m of frozen fish, followed by £5.7m of cheese and £5.3m of coffee.

According to Russian media sources the embargo comes in response to the actions of the West and will last one year,

While the ban has been initially penned for one year, Medvedev also conceded that “if our partners demonstrate a constructive approach on cooperation, the Russian government is ready to revise the terms of those measures.” All of these measures, which I have just said, are extremely reactive. These developments, we do not want”, said Medvedev at a government meeting.

Source: The Guardian, Reuters