MOSCOW Aug 11 Moscow's sweeping sanctions on
European food have sent Russian restaurateurs, retail chains and
food producers scrambling for alternative supplies and bracing
for Soviet-style shortages.
The tit for tat trade restrictions - a response to U.S. and
EU sanctions imposed over Russia's actions in Ukraine - have
hurt farmers in the West for whom Russia is by far the biggest
buyer of EU produce.
But they will also hit consumers at home, isolating them
from world trade to a degree unseen for more than two decades.
Creamy French cheeses, Australian Ribeye steak and seafood
risottos are heading off the menu at restaurants after the ban
on imports of all fish, meat and dairy produce.
"Prices will go up and certain food stuff will disappear,"
said Alexei Paperny, whose mid-priced Moscow cafe the Children
of Paradise - named after a classic French film - was still
packed on Friday evening.
"We'll do our best to survive .... I can't imagine how some
restaurants and cafes can exist under the circumstances."
He described the year-long ban on products from the United
States, the EU, Canada, Australia and Norway as "Russian
sanctions against Russians" - a frustration shared by many
customers at his cafe.
"It would have been fairer if state officials gave up their
Mercedes and began driving Russian-made Zhigulis (Ladas)," said
a diner who gave his name as Yan, while sipping red wine.
Wealthy with petrodollars while the country's energy
reserves drove a strong economy, Russians have enjoyed a rich
choice of eateries since the 1991 Soviet collapse - and ate out
with the gusto of a generation that still remembered times when
shop windows were bare and the streets were empty after sundown.
Sushi is particularly popular, ubiquitous across the country
and even gracing the menu of Italian and French restaurants. But
it's a fetish some might now have to do without.
Rosinter, one of Russia's largest restaurant chains which
runs Sushi cafes nationwide, said more than 50 percent of the
food it serves up is imported. It expects sanctions to
exacerbate a business downturn already happening as political
instability pushes the economy into recession.
"It is quite a difficult situation," Rosinter spokeswoman
Elena Mazur said. "(We) face a lot of work, in terms of
menu-engineering and pricing."
For one manager of a chain of Sushi stands the potential
impact was more direct.
"We are all worried. We don't want to lose our jobs," he
said, asking not to be cited for fear of official retaliation
over his criticism. "There is no Russian salmon."
"WE'LL LIVE WITHOUT OYSTERS"
The effect of sanctions in the West is already tangible.
European dairy firms have halted production of cheese and butter
destined for Russia and Norwegian salmon prices are expected to
fall 10 percent this week.
But experts say Russia's consumers may also take a financial
hit: Fitch Ratings agency predicted "Imports from EU and the US
will gradually be substituted by higher (priced) imports from
Most likely to feel the loss of foreign delights are
Russia's middle-class, who were at the heart of protests against
President Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency.
"The measure is likely to further alienate the urban middle
class," said Alisa Lockwood, head of Europe & CIS analysis at
His Country Risk. But she added: "Decision-makers at the Kremlin
have probably calculated that patriotic sentiment will outweigh
Polls already show most Russians back reprisals for Western
sanctions over what it calls Russia's support and arming of
pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine - something Moscow
Some 76 percent of Russians polled by the independent Levada
Center just before the imposition of the trade sanctions said
they agreed with the government's plans.
One restaurant in Yekaterinburg has already come up with a
special - albeit short - "Sanctioned Menu" of Russian-produced
foods and other food experts are echoing the patriotic fervour.
"I am proud that we've stopped being the boy who gets
bullied. It's about time," restaurateur Andrei Dellos told the
Russian TV channel Dozhd. "There won't be oysters, but we'll
make do. We'll live without oysters."
BOOST FOR LOCAL PRODUCERS
While Russian farmers hope to turn Western exporters' loss
into their victory, others in the food industry are sceptical
that local producers can fill the gap.
Some note how long it has taken Russia's farm industry to
recover from chaotic years of poverty after the collapse of the
Soviet system - when livestock was slaughtered en masse for lack
of feed - and point out that it still lacks resources.
"To produce so much milk, you first need to raise the cow.
No matter how much you pray, a cow won't take less than three
years to grow into a heifer," quipped Pavel Grudinin, the
director of the Lenin State Farm and a Moscow region deputy.
"Russia's main problem is not that we are inundated with
cheap imported food, but that we ourselves produce little."
Nonetheless others are optimistic. Farm manager Viktor
Zubenko is glad of the chance to sell more of his produce to
consumers in need.
"I can't say we expected these sanctions but we hoped for
them," said Zubenko from Russia's Rostov province, where his
potato fields stretch for miles around.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Alissa de
Carbonnel in Moscow and Natalia Shurmina in Yekaterinburg;
Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Sophie Walker)