News / Europe

Russia Shuts 4 McDonald's Restaurants Amid Ukraine Tensions

People sit outside a closed McDonald's restaurant in Moscow, Aug. 20, 2014.
People sit outside a closed McDonald's restaurant in Moscow, Aug. 20, 2014.
Reuters

Russia ordered the temporary closure of four McDonald's restaurants in Moscow on Wednesday, a decision it said was over sanitary violations but which comes against a backdrop of worsening U.S.-Russian ties over Ukraine.

The four restaurants ordered to suspend operations by the state food safety watchdog included the first ever McDonald's in Russia, which opened in the last days of the Soviet Union, and which the company says is its most frequented in the world.

On Wednesday evening, the lights were off inside the restaurant - usually crammed with diners - and a sign on the door said it was shut “for technical reasons.”

McDonald's Corp shares were down 0.3 percent at 1911 GMT (3:11 p.m. EDT), against the backdrop of a slightly firmer U.S. stock market.

The watchdog, known in Russia as Rospotrebnadzor, said in a statement inspectors had found numerous sanitary violations. A source at the watchdog said it had sealed off parts of the restaurants' premises.

Asked if the decision was a retaliation for the United States and other countries imposing economic sanctions on Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine, the source declined to comment and referred to the statement about sanitary violations.

McDonald's head office in Illinois said in a statement: “We are closely studying the subject of the documents to define what should be done to re-open the restaurants as soon as possible.”

Russia's first McDonald's opened on Moscow's Pushkin Square in 1990, when it was viewed as a sign that, under reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Cold War tensions with the United States were starting to thaw.

It was hugely popular with Russians; long queues formed outside and some people even had their wedding receptions there.

“We have many happy memories of this place,” said a man who gave his name as Vadim. He had come with his wife Natalya to celebrate his 77th birthday at McDonald's, but was forced instead to buy a coffee elsewhere and drink it seated at a table outside the shuttered restaurant.

Asked about the allegations of sanitary violations, he said: “It's a lie. We've been here since it first opened and never got ill once.”

Another of the restaurants closed on the orders of the food safety watchdog is on Moscow's Manezh Square, under the walls of the Kremlin where President Vladimir Putin has his offices.

No to Big Mac?

McDonald's, seen as a symbol of the U.S. global expansion, has been criticized by Russian nationalists.

Prominent politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky called for the chain to be shut down across Russia after the company withdrew from Crimea peninsula in April following Moscow's annexation of the region from Ukraine.

Some consumers share that view.

“I am for McDonald's being wiped from the face of the Earth,” said Vladimir Zolotsev, 20, studying to be a pianist, who was near the Pushkin Square restaurant.

It became clear last month that McDonald's was under heightened scrutiny from the Russian state, when the watchdog said it had identified violations in product quality that raised questions about the safety of food across the chain.

Foreign food producers who have fallen foul of the watchdog in the past have accused it of acting in the political interests of the Kremlin, an allegation it denies.

The watchdog banned Georgian wine as Tbilisi strengthened ties with Washington and spirits from Moldova after the former Soviet republic boosted its drive to partner with the European Union.

Janusz Piechocinski, the deputy prime minister of Poland, said last month that a decision by the watchdog to ban most Polish fruit and vegetable imports was an act of “political repression” by the Kremlin.

McDonald's operates 438 restaurants in Russia and sees the country as one of its top seven major markets outside the United States and Canada, according to its 2013 annual report.

“Russia has been a very bright spot for McDonald's,” said Mark Kalinowski, a restaurant analyst for Janney Capital Markets.

Russia accounts for roughly 10 percent of McDonald's operating profit from Europe, which contributes about one-third of fast-food chain's overall operating profit, Kalinowski said.

Earlier this month Russia banned all meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetable imports from the United States, the European Union, Norway, Canada, and Australia for one year in retaliation for the sanctions imposed by these countries over Ukraine.

However, some of these restrictions were eased on Wednesday to allow the import of some items that are useful to Russia's own food and agriculture industries, such as vegetables for planting and hatchlings of salmon and trout.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs