MOSCOW — A new crackdown has begun on food illegally imported from Western countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia. But rather than just targeting goods brought in across the border, Russian officials now have the go-ahead to raid shops, warehouses and grocery chains throughout the country.
Although most prohibited goods are stopped at the border as transit cargo and destroyed there or sent back, the difficulty of returning products to their place of origin has led to the new proposal by the Ministry of Agriculture late last month, backed by President Vladimir Putin, to seize and destroy banned products on the spot.
Back in June, the Russian government increased its black list of products from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Norway and Australia, in response to their bans of Russian goods. The EU has extended economic sanctions against Russia until Jan. 31 2016.
Added to list were trout, oysters, mussels, as well as many dairy products. However confectionery products, canned fish and flowers are not banned.
The latest decree will allow officials from the Federal Customs Service, the agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor and the health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor to decide what they want to seize.
The goods need to be photographed, filmed and destroyed immediately after their seizure in the presence of two officials.
Vasily Itskov, a legal expert from Horizon Capital investment firm, says the decree is a significant development. "This means that if officials from the customs service, agricultural control or the federal consumer rights watchdog find banned produce during an inspection of, for example, a retail distribution center, it can be destroyed."
A source close of the Agriculture Ministry has confirmed that they will check the warehouses of all retailers within the country. The Russian government has made a priority of its policy of import substitution to fill in for the shortfall of foreign goods no longer coming to Russia due to Western sanctions.
The youth movement "Eat Russian," clad in t-shirts bearing the image of a knife, fork and Russian flag and aligned with the pro-Putin group Nashi, announced the start of a series of raids to find Western contraband.
Retailers themselves insist that they don't have any banned products, neither on their shelves nor in their warehouses. A spokeswoman for the Metro Cash & Carry chain, Oksana Tokarev, said that while the sale of banned European and American products continued for some time after the embargo, "now they are gone." A spokesman for the Dixie chain of stores, insisted that banned goods had stopped appearing in their markets "a long time ago."
Nevertheless, many Russian manufacturers insist that European products continue to enter the country despite the ban. In mid-July, customs officials in St. Petersburg found and seized more than 70 kinds of products from the Azbuka Vkusa chain, including lactose-free cheeses from France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Russian deputy prime minister, Arkady Dvorkovich, said there has been up to 800 violations of the embargo and the Federal Customs Service says that some 552 tons of goods, or about 10% of total goods entering the country, had been seized.