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Russia Removes Foreign Detergent, Washing Powder From Shops

  • RFE/RL

Russian authorities ordered the removal of foreign brands of laundry detergent and other cleaning products from shops in the latest example of products being targeted by what is widely seen as retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow's interference in Ukraine.

Russia's consumer protection agency, Rospotrebnadzor, has a history of alleging violations and halting sales of products from countries that are engaged in diplomatic disputes with Moscow.

Rospotrebnadzor said on August 25 that is has told stores to remove some foreign brands of washing powder and liquid from stores because of what it claims are health risks.

The state-run agency said its inspections of selected products by top foreign brands -- including U.S.-based Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and Clorox, and Germany's Werner & Mertz and Henkel -- revealed high levels of toxic ingredients.

Most of the companies listed by Rospotrebnadzor have production facilities in Russia.

Rospotrebnadzor on August 25 also carried out an unscheduled inspection at the German-owned Henkel Rus plant in the Russian region of Perm.

Henkel said it had not received any notification from Rospotrebnadzor and that all its products had passed toxicological checks in Russia and had a state certificate of safety, the Reuters news agency reported.

"We are trying to find out what's going on and deciding on our next steps," Henkel spokeswoman Natalia Ovakimian said.

Earlier in August, Moscow extended its retaliatory ban on food imports from the European Union, the United States, and other countries that have imposed economic sanctions against Russia over the Kremlin's forced takeover of Crimea from Ukraine and its military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The influx of detergents, dishwashing liquid, and other cleaning products was a noticeable feature of Russia's opening up to the world when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991.

They are not on Russia’s list of banned Western imports.

Banned Products 'Hotline'

But Rospotrebnadzor has repeatedly used health claims in recent months to target Western products that are not included on the banned import list.

While alcohol is also not on the Kremlin’s banned import list, Rospotrebnadzor announced on August 17 that it was pulling three California-produced wines from the Russian market after claiming they failed to meet Russian sanitation and health standards.

That move was also widely seen as part of a Kremlin effort to punish Western firms in retaliation for the sanctions against Russia.

On August 23, Agriculture Minister Aleksandr Tkachyov called for a ban on imports of winemaking supplies from the West, arguing that Russian winemakers essentially are bottling foreign wines.

But Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev has advised caution on a wine materials import ban due to contradictions with Moscow’s obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization.

On August 3, Russia expanded its food import ban to also include products from Albania, Montenegro, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

In addition to the United States and EU member states, other countries on the food import ban list include Australia, Norway, and Canada.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office on August 18 also created a telephone hotline for people to call in order to report any illegal imports of banned Western food.

That hotline has been likened by many to the Soviet-era practice of reporting to the KGB any suspicious deeds and "crimes" by neighbors and colleagues.

Meanwhile, Russia's Federal Customs Service on August 20 drafted legislation that calls for banned foreign foods to be listed as "strategically imported" -- a label currently reserved for radioactive nuclear materials and poisons.

That legislation would stiffen penalties against those found guilty of smuggling banned food from the West -- raising the punishment from fines to prison terms of up to seven years for individuals and up to 12 years for organized smuggling groups.

Russia also has threatened to extend its food embargo against Ukraine at the start of 2016 if Kyiv moves forward on its trade accord with the EU without creating special exemptions for trade with Russia.

Another recent example of the Kremlin’s crackdown on Western companies was a series of inspections at branches of the French-owned supermarket chain Auchan on August 19.

Rospotrebnadzor said all 19 Moscow outlets of Auchan were targeted because authorities were concerned about what they claimed were reports of poor-quality meat.

Russian authorities have destroyed more than 612 tons of confiscated Western foreign food imports since the Kremlin's retaliatory import ban was announced in 2014.

Televised images of tons of cheese, fruit, and other foods being bulldozed by Russian authorities have stirred up anger among ordinary Russians who are suffering from economic hardships that have worsened as a result of the international sanctions against Russia.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, Interfax, and TASS