* Russia bans Western food imports to retaliate against
* Shoppers stock up on foreign products before ban bites
* Older generation recalls Soviet-era queues for food
* Putin confident Russian suppliers can fill gap
* Brazil keen to grab share of huge Russian market
By Alexander Winning and Dmitry Zhdannikov
MOSCOW, Aug 7 TsUM department store once
showcased the Soviet Union's meagre offering of consumer goods.
Now shops in its basement food hall are stuffed with imported
delicacies catering for today's well-heeled Russians - the very
goods the Kremlin has decided to ban.
On Thursday, Moscow's middle and upper classes still browsed
through the aisles neatly stacked with French cheeses,
Australian wines and Spanish cured meats at the Globus Gourmet
supermarket. Among the offerings was a rare local product - a
can of black caviar costing $1,800.
Such shopping trips may mark a last chance to stock up on
everything except the caviar for at least a year; President
Vladimir Putin - whose office lies a stone's throw away in the
Kremlin - has signed a decree banning for 12 months imports of
food from any country that has imposed sanctions on Russia.
"I remember standing in queues in Soviet times, when there
was nothing on the shelves, but my children have grown up
differently and we have different tastes," said Maria, an office
worker in her fifties at TsUM's Gothic-style building, who
declined to give her full name.
"It's a nightmare, of course. Nothing good will come of it,"
she said during a shopping trip with her friend, Anna.
TsUM (Central Universal Department Store) dates from the
early 20th century and was nationalised during the Russian
revolution. After Soviet communism collapsed more than two
decades ago, it returned to private hands, supplying a city that
now has more billionaires than anywhere else except New York.
Today door staff gaze vaguely disapprovingly at any arriving
customers who appear unlikely to be able to afford the often
Hit by sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, Russia has
retaliated by imposing sweeping bans on fruit, vegetables, meat,
fish, milk and dairy imports from the United States, the
European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway.
If the ban is implemented in full, shops like Globus Gourmet
- and there are dozens of them in Moscow - will be hurt badly.
Putin said Russian producers will easily fill the gap, and
unaffected countries such as Brazil and some former Soviet
republics are keen to grab a bigger share of a huge market.
SPARTAN SOVIET DAYS
Russia bought about $40 billion worth of imported food last
year. It has become by far the biggest consumer of EU fruit and
vegetables, the second biggest buyer of U.S. poultry and a major
consumer of fish, meat and dairy products.
While the basics will probably remain available, the ban has
also reawoken memories of the spartan Soviet era for Anna.
"My friends used to bring me tiny blocks of cheese from
Holland as a present," she said. Anna was rushing to stock up on
imported gluten-free produce needed by people with wheat
allergies, which she said was in short supply in Moscow.
Both women said the restrictions would hurt ordinary
Russians most of all, and they feared a sharp rise in prices for
By no means is all imported food for the wealthy. For
instance, Russians have eaten their way through huge quantities
of U.S. chicken pieces since the early post-communist days.
The Russian central bank has already warned that import bans
could make it harder to control inflation, which dipped to an
annual 7.5 percent in July but remains well above last year's
6.5 percent rate.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the
government would make sure inflation remained under control but
also promised that anyone who tried to profit from the import
bans would be punished.
Most Russians would associate such warnings with Soviet
campaigns against "speculators" when people could go to jail for
trying to import and sell jeans or video recorders.
Medvedev also said Russia has managed to raise domestic food
production sharply and should face no problems in substituting
imports except of milk and certain types of meat, mainly beef.
Unlike shoppers, most members of the business community were
more careful in their comments on the ban.
Russia's business elite has so far stayed firmly behind
Putin, despite expectations in Washington and Brussels that
sanctions on some of the president's closest allies would lead
to them to pressure him into changing course on Ukraine.
"We understand the political difficulties and will adjust,"
said Sergei Galitsky, co-owner of Russia's largest food chain
Magnit. "Russia probably has to respond to sanctions. So here we
are. What can you do?" he told the Kommersant newspaper.
Mikhail Susov, who manages the Globus Gourmet chain, said
shops needed time to adapt, especially the big groups. "We will
be fine. We won't have empty shelves but the choice will be
worse," he said.
Vladimir Rusanov, a spokesman for another retailer, X5, said
that 35-40 percent of his firm's goods were imported. "Now we
will have to boost ties with the Customs Union (with Kazakhstan
and Belarus) and southeast Asia," he said.
Mikhail Anshakov from the Society of Consumer Protection was
less optimistic. "We may soon see rationing cards. Many products
are either imported or made from foreign material. Our producers
are not real producers, they just package stuff," he said.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Olga Sichkar and
Tatiana Ustinova, Editing by David Stamp)