Just days after Russian president Vladimir Putin decided to destroy all Western-imported foods — some by burning — officials have broken up an international ring of contraband cheese producers, arresting six people.
The cheese smugglers, whose products were valued at $30 million, have been taken into custody as part of a larger effort by Putin to send a strong message about his displeasure over the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and Europe following his military actions in the Ukraine.
Recently, Putin also extended his government’s ban on Western foods until at least 2016, a decision that has, by and large, only served to hurt Russian citizens, for whom the prices of local goods have soared.
Putin did make one exception to the import rule, however, to allow for the international sourcing of caviar — though the tins purposely do not note their country of origin, which is Italy.
The contraband cheese ring, meanwhile, has reportedly been in operation since March, and has been producing “a product made from cheese rennet whose import into Russia is forbidden.” The cheese was then sold to markets and distribution centers throughout Russia with counterfeit labels.
The government, which has acknowledged the proliferation of smuggled foods in defiance of the import ban, has sought to make the elimination of such goods as public as possible, instructing authorities to document the destruction on video and in photos.
One Russian consumer group, the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Consumer (OZPP), has responded by filing a lawsuit against President Putin, urging officials to admit that, “Providing consumers with high quality and safe agricultural produce, cheese and other food products, irrespective of their country of origin, cannot in any way pose a risk or danger to Russia's food security.”