Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No Big Macs for you, Vladimir!

Food import ban means Russia is fully at war with the West

By Masha Gessen August 12 at 5:58 PM

Masha Gessen is a Russian American journalist and the author of “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”

Russians are about to lose access to virtually all food imported from the West — which is to say, a significant portion of the food that Russians consume. President Vladimir Putin ordered the ban on imports to retaliate against Western countries that imposed economic sanctions against Russia after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. More than anything that has happened this year — more than the annexation of Crimea, more than the latest crop of repressive laws passed by the parliament and more than the West’s sanctions — the food ban marks a turning point for Russia. It is now fully and truly a country at war.

The ban on Western food has already led to price hikes and runs on supermarkets. Food prices were rising at a disturbingly high rate before the ban, and now they will probably skyrocket; there may also be shortages. Russians older than 30 have vivid recollections of such shortages, but the state propaganda machine is working hard to make people associate the looming hardships not with the memories of the failed Soviet economy but with the struggles of World War II. They are to think of their losses as heroic sacrifices made for the war effort. This propaganda, drawing on a wealth of cinematic and literary narratives of the glorious deprivations of wartime, may well prove successful with the vast majority of Russians who support the current war effort, at least in the short run.

A country at war invariably declares war not only on the outside enemy — in this case, the West, as represented by Ukraine — but also on the enemy within. In his landmark speech to parliament in March announcing the annexation of Crimea, Putin made reference to a “fifth column” of “national traitors” who are in cahoots with the West. With the ban on imported foods, he has broken an uneasy, long-standing truce with the group he views with the most suspicion: Russia’s cafe society.

(More here.)

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