Putin Wages a Different War on Turkey With Trade in Crosshairs

Obama Plays Diplomat to Putin, Erdogan Tensions
  • Russia often resorts to trade restrictions amid political rows
  • Turkey's downing of Russian jet stoked tension between nations

Hours after Turkey announced it had downed a Russian jet last week, Vladimir Putin made his first move -- targeting Turkish goods. Other measures soon followed.

After imposing lengthy additional border checks on Turkish goods, Russia then slapped bans on its vegetables and restrictions on its airlines, in line with a pattern of punitive measures levied on countries after geopolitical conflagrations. And while Russia isn’t alone in using the strategy, it stands out for the speed and breadth of its retaliatory steps, according to Christopher Granville, a former U.K. diplomat in Moscow who runs the Trusted Sources research group in London.

“It’s simply economic pursuits for political reasons,” Granville said. “The leverage is always solid Russian demand. A distinctive Russian characteristic is that the process isn’t well formalized, and informal quality defects are suddenly found in Moldovan wine or Georgian mineral water.”

While Russia’s consumer watchdog frequently cites health and safety risks to justify product bans, Turkish businesses are being “held hostage” by that nation’s leaders, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Nov. 30.

Below are examples of countries that have been subjected to trade restrictions by Russia amid political tensions:

Moldova

Date: Sept. 2013
Product: Moldovan wine
Reason given: Impurities
Background: Moldova was expected to negotiate an association agreement with the European Union. Moldovan authorities defended wine quality, saying Russia’s claims were unjustified

Date: July 2014
Product: Fresh fruit, of which nearly 90 percent is exported to Russia
Reason given: Large number of irregularities and the presence of organisms that could lead to significant losses for Russian agriculture
Background: Moldova signed an EU association agreement in June. The Russian government earlier warned that exports were at risk if Moldova signed the accord. The ban was lifted in October

Ukraine

Date: July 2013
Product: Candies produced by Ukraine’s Roshen, owned by Petro Poroshenko, who became president the following year
Reason given: Presence of carcinogenic substances
Background: Russia pressured Ukraine to join its customs union, while Ukraine instead sought to sign a free-trade agreement with the EU. Ukraine defended Roshen as upholding both Ukrainian and Russian sanitary guidelines

Date: Jan. 2016
Product: Food and agricultural products
Reason given: Concerns over EU products crossing its border via Ukraine
Background: The EU-Ukraine free-trade agreement comes into force the same month

Georgia

Date: 2006
Product: Borjomi water, wine and agricultural products
Reason given: Safety concerns
Background: Georgia expelled men it said were Russian spies. The embargo was lifted in 2013, five years after the two nations fought a five-day war

Lithuania

Date: Oct. 2013
Product: Dairy products
Reason given: Safety concerns
Background: Lithuania held the EU’s rotating presidency and actively sought to get Ukraine to sign an EU association agreement. The European Commission defended Lithuania, saying it had confidence in the safety of Lithuanian dairy products. The ban was lifted in December as the Lithuanian presidency ended

Latvia, Estonia, Poland

Date: June-August 2015
Product: Latvian sprat fish; Estonian canned fish, the country’s only remaining major food export to Russia after a ban on EU imports in 2014; Polish fruit and cabbage
Reason given: Toxins (Latvia and Estonia); repeated violations of certification and infestation of Oriental fruit moth (Poland)
Background: The three countries, all of which border Russia, were among the staunchest proponents of sanctions and of increasing NATO’s presence in the region

The Netherlands

Date: July, 2015
Product: Flowers
Reason given: Pests, diseases posing danger to Russian agriculture
Background: The two countries have been at odds over their competing investigations of the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. The Dutch flower trade association has said that while Russia is the only country to recently complain about the pest, its members are working on new pesticides to address it

Iceland

Date: Aug, 2015
Product: Fish
Reason given: Iceland’s support for sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine
Background: Iceland, which isn’t an EU member, joined the bloc’s sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea

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