KAZAN, Russia -- The management of a supermarket chain in Russia's Tatarstan region has apologized for offering a cutting board decorated with a photo montage of U.S. President Barack Obama in the company of two anthropomorphized chimpanzees.
"We apologize for what happened," the management of the Bakhetle supermarket chain said in a written statement on December 10. "This is the first time we have encountered such a situation and so our staff was not prepared for it. We regret that this product ended up on the shelves of our store."
The decorative cutting board included the offending image and a 2016 calendar.
The company's statement, however, does not acknowledge the racist overtones of the design, merely saying it is "unacceptable to use a retail space as the scene of a political provocation."
The incident provoked something of an Internet sensation after U.S. Embassy spokesman Will Stevens on December 9 posted a photograph of the cutting board on his Twitter account with the comment: "Disgusting to see that such blatant #racism has a place on Russian store shelves."
The cutting boards were produced by a St. Petersburg company called Evrostil. In an interview with RFE/RL, Evrostil commercial director Kirill Naumenko said he did not know it was Obama pictured in the caricature that they found on the Internet. He said the intent of the designer was to illustrate "that humans evolved from monkeys."
Naumenko declined to say how many of the boards had been produced, but said they had been distributed across Russia and that only a handful remained in Evrostil's possession.
As tensions between Russia and the United States have intensified in recent months, Obama has come under considerable criticism and personal attack in Russia. Some of that criticism has been explicitly racist.
In August 2014, a laser projection was broadcast on the facade of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow showing Obama eating a banana. On the popular Russian social-media site VKontakte, there is a group called "Monkey Obama" that regularly features racist posts.
When a VKontakte page devoted to life in Kazan posted the story of the racist cutting board, it was quickly decorated with racist comments, including people asking which one was Obama and one that said, "Why should we apologize to monkeys?"