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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs