Russia hits EU allies with symbolic food ban
Russia has extended its food import ban to four EU allies and threatened to impose future sanctions on Ukraine.
The extension covers Albania, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Montenegro. The ban on Ukrainian agricultural exports is to come into effect on 1 January 2016 if Ukraine implements the trade provisions of its EU association treaty.
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The four EU allies were targeted because they have aligned themselves with EU sanctions on Russia.
Two Western Balkan states, Macedonia and Serbia, were spared because their Russia-friendly governments have refused to join the EU sanctions regime despite being obliged to do so under their EU accession commitments.
Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev signed the decree on Thursday (13 August).
"They [the four EU allies] said their decision to join the EU sanctions against Russia was motivated by a number of agreements with the European Union. This stance is only partly fair”, he told a cabinet meeting.
“I would like to note that a number of countries, which have a similar agreement with the European Union, have refused to impose sanctions against Russia. So, the decision to join the anti-Russian sanctions was a conscious choice, which means that the countries who did that are ready for the retaliatory measures”.
The new import ban is more of symbolic gesture than an economic blow.
Fish and fruit
The Iceland ban is the biggest. According to Russia’s Federal Customs Service, the Nordic state exported $232 million of mostly seafood to Russia in 2014.
Albania exported $10 million of fruit and dairy. Montenegro exported $40,000 of fruit and vegetables. Liechtenstein didn’t export any food.
The potential Ukraine ban is more significant, with food exports to Russia last year still worth $415 million, out of total exports of $11 billion, despite the conflict over Crimea and in east Ukraine.
Russia says the implementation of the free trade part of the EU-Ukraine pact will see its markets hit by cheap EU products.
The EU, Russia, and Ukraine, last September, agreed to delay the implementation to soothe Russia’s concerns.
EU institutions were drafting their reaction to the Russian threat on Friday morning.
But a senior EU diplomat told EUobserver: “I think it's an attempt to exert pressure on the trilateral talks in order to get as many concessions as possible before the deadline [1 January 2016]”.
He said “the real threat” is that Russia will axe its overall free trade agreement with Ukraine, hitting exports across the board.
But he added that, due to the conflict, “Ukraine-Russia trade has now, in any case, dropped drastically - it’s almost negligible”.
Russia, earlier this month, began bulldozing and burning stockpiles of seized EU food and of Dutch flowers, which are subject to a separate ban.
The spectacle has prompted a debate in Russian society, with Russia’s Communist Party saying the food should instead be given to the poor.
Levada, an independent pollster, says 48 percent of Russians don’t support food destruction, but 40 percent do.
The pollster, on Thursday, also said 36 percent of Russians think Russia “won just as much as everyone else” from the end of the Cold War, but 29 percent think it “ended up as the loser”.
Sixty-two percent of Russians think Russian-Western relations will “always be rooted in mistrust”.
The new wave of Russian sanctions comes shortly after a flare-up in fighting in east Ukraine.
Asked if the political and military developments herald an intensification of the crisis, the senior EU diplomat said: “We’re going to be in this for the long haul”.
“The premises of the crisis are completely different for its different parties. For [Russian president] Putin, it’s about political survival, so he’s ready to sacrifice a lot. For the West, with the exception of Poland and the Baltic states, it’s just another crisis”.