Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly planning to banning the import of western food in retaliation for new NATO sanctions over the escalating Ukraine crisis.
While the details list of food imports to be banned has yet to be released, the ban will reportedly encompass all imports from America and many from Europe.
Russia is a net importer of many basic food products that it simply does not have the capacity to produce at home, including chicken from the states and dairy from Europe.
The move to ban food, and thus risk either starving his own people, or stoking Russia’s already-inflation rate, in addition to causing food shortages, struck many as a rather perverse way of “punishing” the West.
Russia has been hit with sanctions from the 28-nation European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and Ukraine. Russian imports of U.S. agricultural products total about $1 billion a year. From the European Union, the figure was $15.8 billion in 2013. Imports include grains and other raw products that feed Russia’s 144 million residents.
Part of Putin’s 14-year-long grasp on power has depended on the acquiescence of a prosperous middle class whose members enjoyed the wide variety of imported foods on store shelves in Russia’s urban centers. Those people may be affected more quickly by the food ban than by Western sanctions that have targeted areas of the economy that are more likely to hit a small sector of the wealthiest Russians.
Also oddly-timed was a threat by Russia’s foreign minister to shut down the country’s airspace to western air traffic, only weeks after Russia provided surface to air missiles to Russian nationals in Ukraine, who then used the weapons to destroy a civilian airliner killing nearly 300 people. It would seem an inopportune moment for Russia to be threatening civilian aircraft.