Russia: Import ban will benefit the country, make people healthier

Russia's ban on food and agricultural imports comes in retaliation for US and European sanctions over Ukraine. Russia is expected to release a full list of the products it is barring today. 

By , Staff writer

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A day after announcing a one-year ban on food and agricultural imports from countries that have sanctioned Russia for its role in Ukraine's unrest, Russia is seeking to fill the void left by the disappearance of American and European products from its shelves.

RT reports that officials are meeting with representatives from Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina today to discuss boosting imports from those countries. Francisco Turra, president of the Brazilian Poultry Association, told RIA Novosti that Brazil is prepared to increase its poultry exports to Russia from 60,000 tons annually to 150,000 tons.

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Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Nebenzya arrived in Bangkok today for the annual meeting of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific amid an effort to orient Russia's economy more toward its east.

“In the current international climate, cooperation with APR [Asia-Pacific region] countries has taken on great importance for us. The US and EU sanctions regime is not just a challenge but, in a sense, it has opened a window of opportunity for diversifying our economy, as well as our international ties,” Mr. Nebenzya told RIA Novosti.

Russia will not “turn our backs on our traditional partners, although they are doing their best to curb, freeze, or impose sanctions on this cooperation," he said.

Russia is expected to release a full list of the products it will ban today. Meanwhile, RIA Novosti published a list of the major imports from the 20 countries that will be affected. 

As The Christian Science Monitor reports, the bans were initially cast as a bid to eliminate subpar products, but on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin made clear that they were a retaliatory measure.

Over the past week Russia has enacted a list of "stealthy" counter-sanctions, including bans on fruits, vegetables, and meat products. They are not being called sanctions, but justified on grounds of "phytosanitation" concerns and enforced by Rosselkhoznadzor, the Russian government's veterinary and sanitary watchdog.

The agency has discovered an apparent outbreak of mad cow disease in Romanian beef, insects in Greek fruits, toxic residue in Spanish meat, and last Friday banned almost all Polish fruits and vegetables – the Russian market is worth $1.3 billion annually for Poland – because of "repeated violations" of food safety certificates. Citing similar concerns, Russia earlier halted a wide spectrum of Ukrainian agricultural imports, amid a general collapse in trading relations between the two former partners.

But on Wednesday Mr. Putin dropped all pretenses and ordered the government to impose counter-sanctions to prohibit "the import of certain kinds of agricultural products, raw materials and food originating in a country that has imposed economic sanctions against Russian companies and (or) individuals or has joined such sanctions."

Still, Russia is casting the ban as a move that will ultimately benefit Russians – and not just on a geopolitical level. Anatoly Aksakov, deputy chairman of the committee on financial markets in the Duma, Russia's legislature, said it would make Russians healthier.

“I think it an adequate measure. Basically, we import up to 50 percent of food products but it doesn’t mean our country do not produce these products. It means that the price of these [imported] products, given they are often of a poor quality and bad for health, is lower,” the lawmaker said.

“In fact, we should have made this decision long before, not because of sanctions but in order to protect our people, their health,” Aksakov added.

According to the parliamentarian, Russia did not adopt import restrictions earlier because they could have had a negative impact on international relations.

“We have been treating established ties with foreign countries with due care. But they [foreign countries] themselves made the move towards the deterioration [of relations], despite the good will of our country," the lawmaker said.

The maneuvering comes as the conflict in eastern Ukraine rages on. The New York Times reports that the Ukrainian military bombed Donetsk overnight for the first time. The "arbitrary arrests and raw brutality" of the Russian separatists has sown support for the military's campaign, but, the Times notes, residents "are also terrified by the artillery and heavy weapons the army is using, and baffled by denials from the Ukrainian military that it is firing into residential areas."

The roar of jets and the crack of explosions could be heard as the bombs dug a line of large craters across a district of warehouses and auto repair shops. It was not clear what the intended target was.

One of the bombs failed to explode. Two grim-faced members of a bomb squad took turns Wednesday morning digging it out of a hole in the pavement.

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After the bombs fell on Wednesday, a military spokesman in Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, said the Ukrainian air force had not struck Donetsk. “The Ukrainian aviation does not bomb” populated areas, he told reporters. If a warplane was heard over the city, he insisted, it must have been a reconnaissance and communications flight. 

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