Putin extends Western food ban for one year
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday extended a ban against most Western food imports for a year, saying the longer-than-expected measure would ensure the country's security.
He unveiled the extension of the ban after EU foreign ministers said this week that sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine conflict would be prolonged until January 2016.
"The government turned to me with an appeal to extend the measures," Putin told a government meeting.
"In accordance with this letter today I signed a decree to extend certain special economic measures with a view to ensuring Russia's security."
The ban introduced last August includes beef, pork, fish, cheese, vegetables, fruit, milk and dairy products from the EU, the United States, Canada, Norway and Australia.
"We are extending our retaliatory measures by one year beginning from today," Putin said.
"I think it would be good guidance for our domestic agricultural producers."
Russia had been expected to prolong the ban for six months after EU foreign ministers formally agreed Monday to prolong damaging economic sanctions against Russia until January 2016, to ensure it fully implements Ukraine peace accords.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday said he would ask Putin to extend the embargo on Western food imports as well as sanctions targeting certain foreign trade transactions by another six months.
Officials had previously said the sanctions proved a boon for Russian domestic industries, but agricultural producers said they needed the ban to be in place for a long time for them to benefit from it.
-'Balm to our souls'-
Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev earlier Wednesday suggested that the ban may be expanded to include flowers, confectionery and canned fish, saying his ministry was putting together a proposal to that effect.
"The extension of sanctions is a balm to our souls," he said in televised remarks, adding that the food embargo introduced last year had proved a boost for the industry.
"We are seeing more Russian-made foods on the shelves of our stores," he said, noting Russia should win back the status of "agricultural superpower" it enjoyed before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
"Russia has this chance, has this unique opportunity."
The anti-Western punitive measures have sent prices of basic goods soaring, with Russians seeing their spending power diminish drastically over the past year.
Earlier this month state statistics showed that the number of Russians living below the poverty line rose by 3.1 million to 22.9 million -- or 15.9 percent of the population -- in the first quarter.
Moscow has said the EU decision to announce the extension of the anti-Russian sanctions on June 22 -- the day Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, which is now the official Day of Remembrance and Sorrow in the country -- reeked of cynicism.
Russia also said the EU decision to prolong the sanctions was "guaranteed to cause hundreds of thousands of Europeans to lose their jobs", a major sore point in the EU.
Brussels has hit Russia's banking, oil and defence sectors hard and, along with the United States, it has warned more sanctions could follow unless Moscow lives up to its February commitments to withdraw support for the rebels and use its influence with them to implement the peace deal for Ukraine.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev has killed more than 6,500 people in the past 15 months. Moscow denies sending troops to Ukraine and says any Russians fighting there are volunteers.
© 2015 AFP