Even food is political in Russia. With the support of prosecutors, the state consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor is conducting “systematic” inspections of all French Auchan supermarkets in Moscow, said agency head Anna Popova on Wednesday. The inspections, nominally over concerns about poor-quality meat, were reportedly planned months in advance and are a regular procedure. But things are rarely so simple in Russia.
France is a particularly tempting target for Russia to take a swipe at. Besides participating in Western sanctions imposed against Russia after its seizure of Crimea and its meddling in Ukraine, France also failed to deliver two high-end Mistral warships that it sold to Russia before any sanctions. France stonewalled and then caved to Western pressure not to follow through; the deal was officially canceled earlier this month and France fully refunded Russia. (While the exact reimbursement was not published, previous reports in Russian media put the price tag at about $1.3 billion.)
Rospotrebnadzor has often been accused of using its powers to block imports of food products for political purposes, with items from countries such as Georgia and Ukraine previously blocked at times of political tension. Last year, during tensions with the U.S. over the Ukraine crisis, McDonald’s restaurants in Russia were subject to a range of inspections, with food safety concerns cited, and the company’s flagship restaurant in Moscow was temporarily closed.
Russia is also cracking down on illicit food products smuggled in despite the bans on numerous Western foods, which were imposed in retaliation for sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine. In several locations in early August, Russia burned or buried hundreds of tons of illicit pork, tomatoes, peaches, and cheese. And on Tuesday, police announced that they had broken up a gang of international criminals who had an estimated $30 million worth of contraband cheese (nearly 500 tons).
But still, this food fight with the West pales in importance compared to a different politically-charged business deal of Moscow—selling four S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran. “The text of the contract is ready and our friends will go to Russia next week to sign the contract,” said Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan on Tuesday. Having S-300s would make any future airborne attacks on Iran much more difficult and costly in both material and human terms.
Russia has shown that it cares little about global public opinion, meaning that Western objections, in particular, fall on deaf ears.