Who needs Italian wine, English cheddar, and German sausages? Obviously not Russia.
Vladimir Putin is forcing Russians to become locavores, whether they like it or not. Last Thursday, his government issued a list of imported foods that will be banned for one year. This is an act of retaliation against those countries that placed sanctions on Russia following the attack on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine. This includes the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Norway, Poland, Latvia, and the European Union.
It is an odd decision to make on behalf of a northern country that imports 40 percent of its food and is unable to boast about being “the breadbasket of Europe,” as it once was. That agricultural infrastructure is gone now, and it would take a long time and a rocky transition before local growers could fill that void.
Growth in domestic food production appears to be what the Kremlin ultimately wants and fits in well with its insistence on not needing the West to survive. Indeed, one acerbic Putinist seems to think it’s now or never for local growers. @EduardBagirov tweeted: “Our food producers now have the opportunity of a lifetime. If they screw it up now, they should stop complaining that no one buys their crap.” (Obscenities have been removed.)
Another supporter named Yegor Kholmogorov wrote:
“I can survive perfectly well in a world without Polish apples, Dutch tomatoes, Latvian sprats, American cola, Australian beef, and English tea, especially if this results in a substituting expansion of Russian agribusiness and food industry.” (This was before he found out that tea and cola would not be banned.)
The Russian authorities obviously think that these restrictions will hurt foreign exporters more than the Russian economy; indeed, the loss of income from exports to Russia will cost Europe’s biggest economies, together with Poland, Norway, the U.S., Australia, and Canada, some $6 billion over the course of the next year. That number, however, is small compared to what Russia will lose.
Bloomberg reports that the Russian Micex stock has lost a third of that amount in capitalization since the food sanctions were announced on August 6: “They are expected to hurt retailers [and] the more upscale retailers will need to reconsider their entire sales matrices, shifting to Asian and Latin American imports.”
While I support the idea of building up local food production and decreasing dependency on foreign imports for any nation, especially in the face of growing environmental concerns, the way in which Putin is going about it is rather unfortunate. The development of a local economy and the diminishment of imports need not be mutually exclusive, nor should the former be a sort of a punishment for Russians, which is how many upper-middle class people – the ones who will be hardest hit by these bans – are likely to view it.
@YuliaSkyNews tweeted last week:
Credit to Andrew Sullivan for the clever locavore reference