The Straw Man Of Russia's Western Food Embargo

Russia may be officially forbidding Western food on grocery shelves, but facing skyrocketing prices and shortages, it's allowing Belarus and Kazakhstan to act as intermediaries.

Belarusian President Lukashenko, Kazakh President Nazarbayev and Russian President Putin in Astana in May
Belarusian President Lukashenko, Kazakh President Nazarbayev and Russian President Putin in Astana in May
Andrzej Kublik

WARSAW — It seems that Russia has created an end-around for its embargo against the West, creating intermediaries to bring to market the very goods that it has professed to ban.

Moscow officials have authorized Belarus and Kazakhstan to play this role of intermediary, handling imports from short-listed countries. "Our partners from the customs union will be able to benefit from the situation by processing on their territory some of the articles previously exported directly to Russia," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said.

According to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the retaliatory food embargo being imposed on the West should reshuffle the Russian market, which "needs competition, not a monopoly of Polish apples or Norwegian fish."

But Putin's response to Western sanctions, which have come as a result of Russian aggression in Ukraine, will hit his own countrymen hardest, creating skyrocketing prices and food shortages.

The wholesale price of salmon, for example, has risen by 15% to 20% — and this is despite the assertion by Russian officials that the gap created by the absence of Norwegian supplies would be filled with fish from native waters. In reality, enterprises from Russia's eastern coastline estimate that prices this year will be twice as high as in previous years.

Meanwhile, the third-party countries — Belarus and Kazakhstan, together with Russia, form the Eurasian Customs Union — seem to be benefitting from the Russian/West standoff.

Within the first week of the embargo being in force, the Belarus company Santa Bremor increased its supplies of salmon to Russia by 30%. Given that Belarus doesn't have access to the sea, its growing fishing export is readily mocked by Russian journalists.

A Belarus company willing to export Polish apples to Russia can simply flip the fruits into Belarusian boxes, making it difficult for customs officials to detect the contraband. Moscow is also more likely to turn a blind eye on the system's inadequacies than deal with food deficits and high retail prices.

Germany's agriculture minister said in a recent interview that Russia won't be able to bear for long the economic isolation of sanctions against the West, as its agriculture can meet only 60% of the country's demand.

Belarus, on the other hand, can start to count its potential economic windfall. Last year, Russia imported 705,000 tons of Polish apples valued at $389 million. According to the news portal Belorusskie Novosti, the re-export of Polish apples could bring the country up to $25 million.

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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