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No Politics At Russia's New Year's Table, Please

The oily Baltic export served on bread is usually a staple of end-of-year festivities in Russia.
The oily Baltic export served on bread is usually a staple of end-of-year festivities in Russia.

MOSCOW -- An old staple of New Year's tables across Russia, canned Estonian and Latvian sprats, has been one of the many casualties of tit-for-tat sanctions between the West and Russia since 2014.

But festive Russians craving the oily Baltic export served on bread had some cause to celebrate on December 18 as a Russian state sanitary watchdog partially lifted a ban on Baltic fish products that was introduced in mid-2015.

The pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper hailed the return to Russian shelves of the "taste of childhood" as the move allowed for the import of fish goods from Estonia's DGM Shipping and Latvia's SIA Karavela starting on December 15.

Russia imposed an import ban on canned fish from over 70 Estonian and Latvian producers two years ago, officially on the grounds that they had repeatedly failed to meet basic sanitary standards. The move, however, was widely seen as political, coming amid a flurry of sanctions exchanged between the European Union and Russia.

As the EU and United States penalized Russia with blacklists and restrictions on major Russian companies after Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and then supported separatist fighters in Ukraine's east, Russia responded by imposing import bans on various international foods and goods.

Fears Of A Glut

Although Moscow's ban on EU goods prompted a rise in food prices in Russian shops, producers have regularly been shown on state television thanking President Vladimir Putin for the prohibitive measures and saying they have spurred demand for their own products.

Indeed, on December 18, some Kaliningrad fish producers appeared alarmed by the news that their Baltic rivals were back on the scene. They complained that the import of Latvia's Kaija brand of sprats -- produced by SIA Karavela -- could create a glut on the Russian market.

"This is not a very nice situation, even more so before New Year. Now Kaija can ruin the whole Russian market with one [import]. I repeat, it won't supply enough for [the whole market], but it can harm [the market]," Sergei Lyutarevich, the chairman of the Kaliningrad-based For Motherland fishing company, told RIA Novosti on December 18.

The move encountered patriotic pushback on social networks as well.

Igor Korotchenko, a pro-Kremlin commentator who appears regularly on state TV shows, called on his countrymen to spurn what he cast as unpatriotic European-produced fish, in favor of Russian-produced alternatives.

"If you are going to buy sprats, then they should be from Kaliningrad. And let the Baltic countries take their produce to...the EU market," he wrote on Twitter.

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