— Ramping up enforcement of a ban on European food imports, the Russian authorities on Thursday destroyed hundreds of tons of foodstuffs they said violated the proscription, instituted a year ago in retaliation for Western sanctions over Ukraine.
Following an order by President Vladimir V. Putin, officials threw huge piles of pork, tomatoes, peaches and cheese into landfills and garbage incinerators.
The frenzy, remarkable even by the standards of Russia’s recent politicization of food supplies, was gleefully reported by Russian state television.
“You can see behind me cheese that was made nobody knows where, without labels,” Yekaterina Mironova, a journalist on Rossiya 24 television, standing before a gigantic mound of orange cheese rounds, as a bulldozer revved its engine in the background.
The offending cheese, she said, would be plowed into a landfill in the Belgorod region of western Russia
News reports chronicled the destruction throughout the day, along the entire breadth of Russia
’s western border, from Orenburg in the south to St. Petersburg in the north
“German cheese being burned in Pulkovo
,” screamed one headline on the news portal Gazeta.ru.
Throughout the Ukraine crisis, there has been a real war in which more than 6,000 people have died and, on the sidelines of that war, a food fight. Russia has a track record of applying food import rules politically.
In 2013, the Kremlin banned Ukrainian chocolate, ostensibly for health reasons. As tensions escalated, Russia banned European milk products like yogurt, giving rise to the term Milk Curtain for the new East-West divide in Europe
After Western nations imposed sanctions on Russian banks and oil companies over Moscow’s support for separatism in eastern Ukraine, Russia turned, as it has so often before, to food, banning European and American imports.
But Russia’s notoriously corrupt customs inspections turned out to be as porous as, well, Swiss cheese. Many products, like Danish canned ham, easily found in Moscow grocery stores, were slipping through.
Importers had taken to obscuring the origins of shipments, suggesting that they came from Turkey rather than a European Union country, for example, or used other ruses to slip sustenance over the borders.
In response, Mr. Putin on July 29 issued a decree with a title as long as a menu item in a farm-to-table restaurant — “On Special Economic Measures to Protect the Russian Federation’s Security” — and it ordered the destruction of contraband food discovered inside Russia starting Thursday.
In one instance in southern Russia, workers fed 114 tons of pork into an incinerator, while 73 tons of peaches labeled as Turkish reached the end of the road on a highway west of Moscow.
In the Smolensk region
on Thursday, agricultural and sanitary officials said they had detected a load of European tomatoes.
“The European origin of the tomatoes was established by the logistics of the load,” the regional office of the inspection agency tasked with the food destruction, Rosselkhoznadzor, told Interfax.
Vladimir Severinov, the head of the agency in the Smolensk region, said the “cargo will be destroyed with the aid of heavy machinery, tractors, bulldozers. The process will be recorded on video.”
In a country with a history of food shortages, the televised destruction of food evoked a sense of pride in a country that can afford, if it so chooses, to grind cheese into the ground or donate it to others. Russia last accepted food aid in 1998.
The daily newspaper Izvestia quoted a member of the group Communists of Russia as saying that the seized food should be sent to Africa
, where it would “elevate the prestige of our country among the people of Africa.”
Other public figures suggested feeding the confiscated contraband food to orphans.
However, in a country where food prices have in some cases doubled and tripled with the collapse of the ruble and the import ban, more than 288,000 people endorsed an online petition at Change.org asking Mr. Putin to cancel his decree and stop wasting food. A spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said Mr. Putin would be informed of the petition.