Russian agriculture watchdog against Armenian products: food safety or politics?

Commentary Materials 10 November 2018 11:54 (UTC +04:00)
Russia's Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor) is introducing enhanced laboratory control in relation to products coming from the Armenian enterprises Hayr Ev Vordi Buniatyanner (Father and Son Buniatyan), Fishart LLC and Khayts Ishkhan LLC.
Russian agriculture watchdog against Armenian products: food safety or politics?

Baku, Azerbaijan, Nov. 10

By Matanat Nasibova & Fikret Dolukhanov – Trend:

Russia's Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor) is introducing enhanced laboratory control in relation to products coming from the Armenian enterprises Hayr Ev Vordi Buniatyanner (Father and Son Buniatyan), Fishart LLC and Khayts Ishkhan LLC, the Russian agency said in an official statement.

The nitrofuran metabolites have been found in the products of Hayr Ev Vordi Buniatyanner, the message says. Yeast has been found in sturgeon roe made by Fishart and in salmon roe made by Khayts Ishkhan.

Interestingly, at the end of October, Rosselkhoznadzor already banned the import of products of Armenian company Food Ex in connection with detection of a combination of benzaldehyde green and leuco-benzaldehyde green in trout.

The ban on the import of Armenian products into Russia is introduced not for the first time. Similar measures to prevent imports from Armenia were taken by Rosselkhoznadzor in previous years. For example, a ban was imposed on the import of dairy and meat products from Armenia in 2015 due to the unstable epizootic situation in Armenia, as well as the high risk of bringing especially dangerous animal diseases into Russia.

Later, in 2016, due to the unstable epizootic situation of hand-foot-and-mouth disease in Armenia, as well as due to the high risk of bringing the causative agent of this disease into the territory of Russia, Rosselkhoznadzor reintroduced restrictions on meat and dairy products from Armenia.

In May 2018, in connection with the discovery of quarantine organisms in Armenian tomatoes and cucumbers, the quarantine phytosanitary control of crops coming from Armenia was also strengthened. This decision was made after detection of two types of quarantine organisms: miner moth on tomatoes and western (Californian) flower thrips on cucumbers. All agricultural products were returned back to Armenia.

Commenting on the November decision of Rosselkhoznadzor, Russian expert Dmitry Verkhoturov told Trend that this is a normal procedure introduced in the event if products do not meet sanitary standards, that is, they are potentially dangerous to the health of consumers.

“As for nitrofuran metabolites found in products [all listed companies are related to fish production and fish processing], these are most likely the residues of the nitrofurans that are sometimes used in animal husbandry and fish farming as feed additives and growth stimulants. I think the Armenian companies have tried so hard to get as many products as possible and as quickly as possible that they overdid with this additive. These compounds are really quite dangerous, and the food products containing such compounds even in small quantities, are not comestible," the Russian expert explained.

He noted that the restrictions are imposed according to results of the tests conducted by the laboratories that are politically neutral.

However, has the agency indeed simply prohibited the import of products from unscrupulous manufacturers without any political motivation?

In November 2015, the Turkish armed forces shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber in the skies over Syria. One of the pilots died during ejection, the second Russian soldier died in the course of a rescue operation.

Immediately after the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the events a "stab in the back." A few days later, Moscow announced economic measures against Ankara. On December 1, the charter flights to Turkey were banned, the visa free travel was lifted, restrictions were imposed on Turkish companies' commercial activity in the territory of Russia, and the work of the intergovernmental commission for trade and economic cooperation was suspended.

As a result, on January 1, 2016, Rosselkhoznadzor imposed a ban on the import into Russia of Turkish products of 17 titles, including fruits, vegetables, flowers and salt. An embargo was also introduced on tomatoes, which were the main article of Turkish vegetable export to Russia (until January 1, 2016, Turkey exported 360,000 tons of tomatoes to Russia). Bilateral trade between the two countries declined sharply from $31.6 billion in 2014 to $15.84 billion in 2016.

Two years later, amid a thaw in relations, Rosselkhoznadzor allowed from May 1, 2018 the import into the territory of Russia of Turkish tomatoes without restrictions on individual enterprises. As we see, the ban was a purely political decision that had nothing to do with a quarantine or other purely environmental issues.

Another significant development occurred when President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko declared in April 2018 that Russia is unleashing trade wars by prohibiting the supply of certain Belarus goods to the Russian territory. In April, Minister of Agriculture of Russia Alexander Tkachev recommended Belarus to look for new sales markets for its milk, since the Russian authorities intend to fill the domestic market with domestic products by 90 percent. Rosselkhoznadzor also imposed a temporary ban on deliveries of live pigs and pig-breeding products from Belarus to Russia in connection with detection of African swine fever.

A rhetorical question: why did African swine fever appear in the meat from Belarus right after Tkachev's statement?

Political scientist Valery Karbalevich in this regard believes that Russia is violating the rules of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) - which also includes Armenia - suggesting the free movement of goods, capital and labor. And although the conflict over the supply of the Belarus dairy products to the Russian market is closed, the case, according to Karbalevich, has not gone anywhere, since this has already occurred repeatedly.

Thus, Rosselkhoznadzor has openly become a political tool far from food security and environmental considerations. So, perhaps, the ban on the import of products from Armenia is also a part of this political mechanism, under which Moscow is taking preventive measures so that the officials in Yerevan do not question relations with Russia against the backdrop of the US claims.

The Georgian political expert Gela Vasadze told Trend that the logic of the Russian authorities in this case is not entirely clear.

"We all know perfectly well that Rosselkhoznadzor has long been an instrument of Russian foreign policy. In 2006, the agency, for example, imposed sanctions against Georgia, after which the Russian leadership has been actively using this tool in foreign policy. But this case is somewhat strange. The current leadership of Armenia has done nothing in word or deed that could put a question mark against relations with Russia," Vasadze said.

He said although the stories about the arrest of the ex-President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and the investigation in regard to CSTO Secretary General Yury Khachaturov are internal Armenian problems, the Kremlin used them to demonstrate its influence. The expert noted that the imposition of a ban on Armenian products could be needed by Russia either for some serious business interests, or as a topic for further bargaining with Yerevan.

What is happening in the relations of Armenia with Russia? The current Armenian leadership, headed by the Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, from the very beginning of its coming to power assured Moscow of preserving the old political orientation. However, from the very beginning, certain minor hiccups appear here and there, which more and more often lead outside observers to the idea that a black kitten if not a big black cat ran between Yerevan and Moscow.

For a start, the very coming to power of Pashinyan as a result of a revolution was met in Moscow quite ambiguously. Some experts immediately said the new prime minister was a protégé of the West. A lot of questions also arouse by the recent visit of the US President's Adviser for National Security John Bolton, during which he declared the superiority of American weapons over Russian ones, after which Pashinyan answered in absentia that, if necessary, Armenia could start acquiring the US weapons. And although a series of refutations rained down after this, such a situation caused a rather nervous and verbose reaction of the Kremlin.

In December, an extraordinary parliamentary election is expected in Armenia, through which the new political forces in the country intend to gain a foothold in the leadership. And only time will tell what steps follow from here on - whether Yerevan will continue to try to keep a foot in both camps, tacking between Moscow and Washington, and whether Rosselkhoznadzor will not ban any other products from Armenia after that.


Matanat Nasibova & Fikret Dolukhanov, Trend commentators

Follow Fikret Dolukhanov on Twitter: @FDolukhanov