Austria not exempt from Russian retaliation

As EU leaders such as Germany's Angela Merkel call for a ceasefire in the Ukraine conflict, Russia has announced its own retaliatory sanctions against EU and US food exports.

Austria not exempt from Russian retaliation
President Fischer receiving President Putin. Photo: APA/HERBERT NEUBAUER

After a united front of EU countries imposed a series of punitive sanctions on Russia for its apparent intransigence in helping to achieve peace in Ukraine's civil war, Russia has decreed a set of its own sanctions that target food exports from the EU, Canada, USA and Australia, among others, for a period of 12 months.

Austria is a long-time trade partner with Russia, often bucking EU policies where it considers the nation's vital interests to be involved, such as in the signing of the South Stream pipeline deal.

However Russian officials have apparently not excluded Austria from the list of EU countries whose food exports will be rejected by Russia.

In particular, in 2013 Austria enjoyed a significant level of food exports to Russia, with an estimated value of €237 million – much of which was represented by pork products.  

That figure was a 26% increase over the previous year, showing that Russia was a growing market for Austria's farm industry.  

Russia already banned EU pork at the beginning of 2014 during the escalation of the Ukraine crisis, blocking 25% of European pig meat exports in a move that the European Commission said would likely cause significant losses for EU farmers.  

At the time, the reason Russia used was the detection of African swine fever in wild boar at the Lithuanian and Polish borders with Belarus, leading the EU to bring a case against Russia in the WTO.  

President Vladimir Putin has now instructed his Kremlin officials to impose sweeping sanctions on a variety of food products, including meat, fruit, vegetables and grains.  

All food exports from the USA will also be targeted, especially poultry. Russia will seek to make up the deficits through trade with South American countries such as Brazil.

Some analysts believe the measures will backfire by increasing domestic food prices, leading to greater discontent with the Russian leader's policies as other sanctions begin to bite, causing a general economic slowdown in the country.  

The Twitter account of DozhdTV, the independent Russian channel, tweeted: "American whiskey, Dutch cheeses, German beer, Australian beef, Greek olives. Say bye-bye to all that." 

Further measures are expected, including bans on air travel from Europe to Asia over Russia's territory.

The European Commission issued a statement on Thursday, saying "The European Union regrets the announcement by the Russian Federation of measures which will target imports of food and agricultural products. This announcement is clearly politically motivated. The Commission will assess the measures in question as soon as we have more information as to their full content and extent."

"We underline that the European Union's restrictive measures are directly linked with the illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of Ukraine. The European Union remains committed to de-escalating the situation in Ukraine. All should join in this effort. Following full assessment by the Commission of the Russian Federation's measures, we reserve the right to take action as appropriate."

Bloomberg cites Russian newspaper Vedomosti as saying that baby food and wine are specifically excluded from the sanctions.

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