A spokesman for Russia’s Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service told Reuters that the restrictions on produce from Poland – a hawkish voice in the European debate over Ukraine – relate to “the violation of certification and the identification of quarantine products” and aren't a tit-for-tat diplomatic move.
But Poles aren’t buying that. In a statement, Poland’s agriculture ministry said: "The embargo amounts to political repression in response to the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia.”
As the world’s largest apple exporter, Poland will be especially hard hit. Approximately 56 percent of its $587 million trade in apples was exported to Russia last year.
Now Poles on social media are using the hashtag #jedzjabłka which means “eat apples.” It’s not just limited to fresh apples; think cider and apple desserts.
One user went so far as to take an apple-eating selfie in front of the Russian embassy:
According to Polish Radio’s English-language section, the campaign started with a blog post from business daily Puls Biznesu, “which calls Poles to ‘stand up to Putin.’” The paper ran a spread the next day of various tweets and photos.
Polish Radio noted that Polish apples weren't the only fruit in peril. Russia has also targeted “pears, plums, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and quinces.”
While the campaign may seem like a light-hearted way for Poles to show Mr. Putin their ire, Russia has said that it could encompass the entire EU, which sells over $2 billion worth of fruits and vegetables to Russia every year.
A day after the ban on Poland, Russia went after Ukraine’s fruit juices, specifically juice used for fruit drinks for children. Russia said the move was intended “to protect the rights of consumers.”
Not the first food war
This isn’t the first time Russia has turned to food products in disputes with its neighbors. In January, Russia targeted Polish and Lithuanian pork. The Financial Times reported that according to Russia, the pork ban was due to an outbreak of African swine fever. European officials claimed it was retaliation against these countries for supporting Ukraine and appealed to the World Trade Organization.
Other countries have been victims of Russia’s capricious appetite. Last July Russia banned Ukrainian chocolates and desserts and Moldovan wine. Many read the moves as a message to both countries not to sign an association agreement with the EU.
Ironically, the ban hit Ukrainian chocolate company Roshen especially hard. But its owner Petro Poroshenko had the last laugh: he's now Ukraine's president.