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Just Say 'Nyet:' Hash Article, Cleaning Products Latest To Be Banned In Russia

  • Pete Baumgartner

A worker uses a bulldozer to crush crates of banned peaches outside the city of Novozybkov, about 600 kilometers from Moscow, on August 7.

A worker uses a bulldozer to crush crates of banned peaches outside the city of Novozybkov, about 600 kilometers from Moscow, on August 7.

Last week, California wines and French meat were attacked. Today, it's Wikipedia and washing detergents.

Within hours of backing off on a ban that prevented Russians from accessing Wikipedia, Russian authorities on August 25 were ordering stores across the country to remove popular washing detergents and soaps from their shelves.

It was only the latest episode in the Kremlin's dizzying parade of bans and blacklists on foreign products since the United States, the European Union, and much of the rest of the Western world imposed sanctions on Russia last year over its seizure of Crimea and involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

People in many parts of Russia were unable to access Wikipedia late on August 24 and early the next day after Russian media-regulating agency Roskomnadzor ordered Internet service providers to block access to a Wikipedia article that contained information about a type of hashish known as charas.

Because Wikipedia doesn't allow for specific articles to be blocked, the order blocked all access to the site.

But Roskomnadzor lifted the ban a few hours later, saying the offending article had been "edited."

Meanwhile, Roskomnadzor's sister agency for consumer goods, Rospotrebnadzor -- the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being -- said it had found irregularities in a host of detergents, soaps, and cleaning solutions by such multinational companies as Clorox, Procter & Gamble, and Colgate-Palmolive.

Curiously, unlike previous Rospotrebnadzor bans on foreign-made products, almost all of the cleaning products are made in Russia, and the embargo included the Russian company Nevskaya Kosmetika.

A meme on the ban emerged quickly on Twitter:

One very popular cleaning agent, Fairy Platinum, is among the products blacklisted.

But Russian singer-songwriter Yelena Vayenga gave a patriotic response to the news that could have been scripted by the Kremlin itself: "We won't die without 'Fairy.' He who sells it will die without us! In the end, I have my hands, my head, and laundry soap, I'll clean everything perfectly with it. I am a good housekeeper."

The Russian consumer can, indeed, survive without Fairy Platinum. But the thousands of people employed just by Procter & Gamble at plants in the Tula and Nizhny Novgorod regions could lose their jobs if the products they make are on a long-term blacklist.

Much like the hundreds of workers at several McDonald's restaurants shut down last year when Rospotrebnadzor decided to close them for alleged sanitary violations. Most have since reopened.

Jihad On Foreign Food

Perhaps the most controversial move by the Russian government in its campaign against foreign goods has been its decision early this summer to strictly enforce its ban on foreign foods.

Stories of illegal "foreign" ducklings being euthanized at the border by Russian officials and physically destroyed (lest someone should try to eat them afterward!), three frozen geese from Hungary being crushed by a bulldozer and buried, and untold tons of cheese, fruit, and vegetables being burned or pulverized have been widely criticized by the public and joked about on social media.

So while Russian officials triumphantly proclaimed on August 24 they had destroyed more than 600 tons of illegal food so far, a fresh opinion poll showed the public quite divided on the practice -- particularly with an estimated 16.1 million Russians living below the poverty line.

The VTsIOM poll showed 46 percent of those surveyed supported the foreign-food-destruction campaign, but 44 percent opposed it.

And an even more cynical government proposal would have Russia banning all foreign medical supplies and equipment, a development that could be devastating to the health of many Russians.

Such a ban -- which a new poll showed is opposed by some 66 percent of Russians surveyed -- would reportedly also include Western-made condoms.

But whether the campaign against foreign products is supported by the public or not, it looks to have solid support from President Vladimir Putin's administration, which even set up a government commission on "import replacement" and has deputy prime ministers frequently talking about Russia becoming "completely independent" of Western products.

Amid the euphoria of hatred against foreign products, the government set up two hotlines on August 18 that allow people to call if they spot a neighbor or anyone else eating a banned foreign food.

Shortly afterward, a man in Vladivostok identified as Nikolai called the authorities to report that his neighbors were eating a Polish goose and smoking Dutch tobacco.

The silliness continued when Russian television showed police arresting several men in connection with a "cheese mafia" -- businessmen who had imported cheese from the West.

A short, unofficial list of some other rather odd things currently banned in Russia includes (not necessarily banned because of the Ukraine crisis)

  1. Swearing in movies, on television, in public performances, in books, and online, is forbidden since last year
  2. The sale of synthetic lingerie with less than 6 percent cotton has also been illegal since 2014
  3. Tobacco hookahs in bars and restaurants were banned last year during a general ban on tobacco products
  4. Ukrainian cheese
  5. Polish sprats
  6. The Thomas Hardy Hollywood film Child 44, banned in April because Russian officials said it distorted history
  7. Books by British military historians Antony Beevor and Sir John Keegan in Russia's Sverdlovsk region
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