* Russia says decision to be made in 2-3 weeks
* Denies its concerns over apples are politically driven
* Poland has sharply criticised Moscow stance on Ukraine
MOSCOW, April 24 Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan
may restrict imports of Polish apples due to concerns over the
quality of food safety checks, a Russian official said on
Thursday, amid increased tensions between Moscow and the West
Russia's state veterinary and phytosanitary service (VPSS)
denied any political motive for considering import restrictions,
but Poland has sharply criticised Moscow's stance towards
neighbouring Ukraine in the past few months.
Market participants say VPSS decisions are often viewed as a
policy tool of the government. Russia blocked imports of Polish
meat from 2005 to 2007 citing health concerns, but NATO member
Poland claimed the ban was politically motivated.
Poland is the world's biggest exporter of apples and Russia
and Belarus are its top two customers.
"The restrictions will be imposed if measures (to improve)
control over compliance with phytosanitary regulations are not
taken," VPSS spokesman Alexei Alekseenko told Reuters.
A decision is likely to be made in two or three weeks and
will be effective for Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, whose
customs policies are aligned under a three-nation customs union,
Asked about a possible political motive, Alekseenko said:
"Our dialogue (over apple imports) has been continuing, more or
less successfully, since last November."
Pro-EU Ukrainians began their protests against
Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich last November. He
finally fled in February after what Moscow branded as a criminal
Citing the need to protect Ukraine's large Russian-speaking
population, Russia then seized Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and
asserted its right to intervene elsewhere in the former Soviet
republic, whose pro-Western government it refuses to recognise.
Poland, a member of the European Union and of NATO, has
taken an active diplomatic role during the Ukraine crisis and
strongly backs the interim government in Kiev.
In the marketing year 2012/13, Poland exported a total of
1.2 million tonnes of apples worth 438 million euros ($606
($1 = 0.7231 Euros)
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Gareth Jones)