Every time Russia is miffed with its neighbors, it goes on a diet. This time around, Moscow is looking to abstain from Turkish food, and possibly soap operas, in retaliation for Ankara’s November 24 downing of a Russian military jet.
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine all know the routine.
In the past, Russia swore off Ukrainian candy and dairy products as relations between the two countries worsened over Crimea, the war against Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and Kyiv’s pro-Western inclinations. In 2013, it took particular aim at Roshen chocolate, the source of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s personal wealth.
Russia also has closed its borders for European cheese and other foodstuffs as a payback for Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. European cheddar cheese was once literally bulldozed off Russian tables.
For years, the Russian dinner table has told the story of Russia’s foreign policy.
In times past, a dinner party-goer in Russia could not bust a bottle of Moldovan or Georgian wines or Borjomi mineral water, Georgia’s proverbial hangover cure. (The Kremlin, however, nonetheless managed to obtain Georgian-produced Coca-Cola for its own uses. )
Moldovan wine remains off the table; Georgian beverages have returned.
Now, with a November 28 decree from President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin intends to restrict trade with Turkey as well. Russian media report that the ban is likely to target such staples of Turkey’s exports as fruit and veggies. Late last week, Turkish trucks laden with agricultural produce stood jammed at Georgia’s Russian border for tightened inspections.
The once chief executor of Russia’s foreign food policies, Gennady Onishchenko, the former head of Russia’s food safety service, the formidable Rospotrebnadzor, recommends a firm defense against Turkish fruit and vegetables. Onishchenko, now a prime-ministerial aide, warned that every Turkish tomato bought by Russians contributes to a missile that “will hit our boys.”
Russia in 2014 accounted for more than half of Turkey’s tomato exports. Yet, as EurasiaNet.org reported, Turkey’s overall trade with Russia has not exactly been going at a brisk clip of late — as of June, it’d sagged by roughly 53.6 percent since 2014, when Western embargoes started to take a toll on the Russian ruble.
Russia's food-restrictions tend to change with its foreign-policy needs. Nonetheless, for many in the region, it still comes as a relief that Russia is focusing on tomatoes, not missiles, in its spat with Turkey.