Russian-Ukrainian Food Fight Heats Up, Going Regional

With Russia and Ukraine facing off over the fate of the small separatist region in eastern Ukraine supported by Moscow, the two countries have been using food policy as a way to punish each other.

This Russian-Ukrainian food fight actually already started last year, when Moscow banned the import of a popular line of Ukrainian chocolates, apparently to punish Kiev's overtures to Europe. In response, the Ukrainian government put a halt to the import of certain Russian sweets.

But with things heating up in eastern Ukraine, so is the use of food import restrictions as a weapon. In late July, Kiev banned the import of Russian pork products, citing a concern about the presence in Asian Swine Flu in certain regions in Russia. Not to be outdone, Moscow soon after announced a ban on Ukrainian soy and a few other agricultural products due to "a breach of phytosanitary requirements" (whatever that means). 

But recent moves by the Kremlin are dragging Ukraine's neighbors into the food battle. After the European Union announced new sanctions against Russia last week, Moscow retaliated by announcing a ban on most fruit and vegetable imports from EU-member Poland. The move, the Kremlin said, was due to "sanitary reasons" and could be extended to the entire EU.

For Poland, the ban is serious business, as Reuters explains:

Poland is the largest exporter of apples in the world. In 2013 it exported apples worth 438 million euro ($587 million), of which 56 percent went to Russia, according to Poland's Ministry of Agriculture.

"I'm expecting the Polish apple producers to suffer," Witold Boguta, representing Poland's Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers, told Reuters.

Poles, though, are taking a light hearted approach to this fruit crisis, launching a social media campaign in which they take pictures of themselves eating apples (Quartz has a nice roundup of these selfies). 

Ukrainians, meanwhile, are doing their part to support their neighbors to the west by encouraging the consumption of more Polish apples. As one Ukrainian human rights group put it in a post on their website: "Stand up to Putin: buy Polish apples!"

[Update -- It appears Moscow is dramatically expanding its trade war, with President Vladimir Putin today instructing government agencies to start restricting imports of food and agricultural prodcuts from any country that has enacted sanctions against Russia.]

Russian-Ukrainian Food Fight Heats Up, Going Regional

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