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Russian Tit-for-tat Response to Sanctions Sees Raids on Firms Suspected of Selling European Products

Following the orders of Vladimir Putin officials used bulldozers and excavators to mulch small mountains of cheese and fruits.

Published: 07th August 2015 08:28 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th August 2015 08:28 AM   |  A+A-

Putin-AP

Russian officials used bulldozers and excavators to mulch small mountains of cheese and fruit yesterday (Thursday) as they began destroying hundreds of tons of European food on the orders of Vladimir Putin.

The controversial decree to crush, burn and bury "contraband" EU meat and other products at border crossings was signed by Mr Putin as part of a year-old embargo on Western food imports introduced as a tit-for-tat for sanctions against Moscow.

The orgy of destruction began in the border city of Belgorod, where state television showed a bulldozer tearing into a seven-ton mound of "suspected" EU cheeses. Other images showed workers in the Ohrenburg region flinging contraband produce into a pit.

The move has sparked widespread criticism in a country where an estimated 20 million people live in poverty and memories of devastating starvation - including in the siege of Leningrad in the Second World War - linger.

Customs and public health officials conducted raids on businesses across Russia suspected of trading in Dutch raspberries or British cheddar.

The Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance, the country's main public health watchdog, said officials had recovered Polish and Irish meat from traders in the Moscow suburb of Reutov, Polish apples in Novosibirsk and vegetables in Tver.

But the first night of the decree also saw the first acts of resistance. One lorry driver hauling forbidden food fled back to Belarus before border officials could destroy his illegal cargo.

Not all the food will be crushed. Customs officials said some meat, for example, will be ground into bone meal.

"Other kinds of food will be mixed with earth to make it unusable," Yuri Ladygin, the head of the customs service in the Russian far east, said. "Every product is different - some could be burnt, some buried."

Russia introduced an embargo on foodstuffs from the EU, the US, Canada, Norway and Australia last August.

Exemptions apply to some cured meats, cereal products, and alcohol, as well as items brought into the country by individuals for their own consumption.

The ban is retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia for the annexation of Crimea and involvement in the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine.

Previously embargoed foods intercepted at the border were simply turned back, but last week Mr Putin agreed with a request from the ministry of agriculture that all "contraband" should be seized and destroyed.

Critics have said that confiscated food could be used to feed the poor.



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