Russia to block imports of U.S. agricultural products
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trade-cut order came as fighting continued to flare in eastern Ukraine between government troops and separatist rebels.
The New York Times
DONETSK, Ukraine — President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hit back against countries that have imposed sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, ordering trade cuts that an official said would include a ban on all imports of agricultural products from the United States.
The full list of products to be banned or limited for up to one year is to be published Thursday. But the state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Alexei Alexeenko of Russia’s plant and veterinary oversight service as saying “from the USA, all products that are produced there and brought to Russia will be prohibited.”
Alexeenko also was quoted as saying he thinks all fruits and vegetables from European Union (EU) countries will also be banned.
Putin’s order included a proviso that the bans be lifted if they drive up prices or cause undue dependence on a single source.
Putin’s order is unlikely to hurt Washington state: Russia isn’t among the top 10 trading partners for state food and agricultural exports; it’s No. 19, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Last year, the state’s $104 million worth of food and agricultural exports to Russia amounted to less than 1 percent of the $8.8 billion total Washington-origin agricultural products the state exported. “No industry likes to see a market closed,” said Agriculture Department spokesman Hector Castro. “But they’re not our biggest export market.”
By comparison, Washington exported $1.6 billion in agricultural products to Japan, its No. 1 export trade partner, in 2013.
Putin’s order Wednesday came as fighting continued to flare in eastern Ukraine between government troops and separatist rebels, whom Russia has been accused of supporting with fighters, arms and supplies.
The United States, the EU and other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, citing its seizure and annexation of Crimea this year and accusing Russia of supplying the missiles that rebels used to shoot down a Malaysian jetliner on July 17, killing all 298 people aboard.
As Ukrainian forces pressed their offensive Wednesday, more alarms were raised in the West about 20,000 Russian troops massing near the Ukraine border.
In Stuttgart, Germany, the U.S. secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, said of a Russian incursion into Ukraine, “It’s a threat, it’s a possibility, absolutely.”
The Kremlin rejected claims that it was preparing to send its troops across the border. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that Western officials seemed to be trying to top one another with exaggerated claims.
The trade-ban decree that Putin signed Wednesday did not name specific products or countries to be banned, but Natalya Timakova, the spokeswoman for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, said the full list released Thursday would include fruits, vegetables and meat, but not wine or baby food.
Russia has used trade restrictions to make political and diplomatic points before, and in recent weeks it has banned Ukrainian dairy products, Polish apples, Australian beef, pork from various neighbors and Moldovan fruit, among other products. Beef and cattle from Romania were added to the list Wednesday, and the Russian news media suggested that American chicken might be next.
Technical pretexts were offered for many of those bans, but the new decree Wednesday allows them to be imposed simply because a country has imposed sanctions on Russia.
In Ukraine, intensified fighting near Donetsk, the main rebel stronghold, caused a Dutch team of investigators working at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to withdraw Wednesday, saying the area had become too dangerous.
Government forces bombed Donetsk from the air for the first time overnight, jangling the already frayed nerves of the city’s residents. The roar of jets and the crack of explosions could be heard as the bombs dug a line of large craters across a district of warehouses and auto-repair shops.
Seattle Times staff reporter Janet I. Tu contributed to this report. Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.