Russia has beefed up its scrutiny of McDonald’s restaurants.
The country’s food safety watchdog made unscheduled checks in several regions, one day after four branches in Moscow were shut over alleged “sanitary violations”.
Many people suspect the move is some sort of political statement related to the tit-for-tat sanctions war between Russia and the West.
“They occasionally hit us with different sanctions,” pointed out one man. “Why can’t we do something in return? McDonald’s is a symbol of everything Western. I think this is a good symbolic step that shows we have some guts.”
Other consumers share that view.
“I am for McDonald’s being wiped from the face of the earth,” said Vladimir Zolotsev, a 20-year-old music student, who was near the world’s busiest McDonald’s in Pushkin Square.
Anatoly disagrees: “The idea of there being political motives should be ruled out immediately because, as far as I know, the entire production cycle takes place here … just the brand is American.”
McDonald’s Russian unit said in a statement: “We are studying the essence of the claims to determine the steps necessary to open the restaurants for the customers as soon as possible.”
McDonald’s corporate headquarters in the US did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
McDonald’s employs over 35,000 workers in more than 400 restaurants across Russia.
For a generation of Russians who saw the first McDonald’s open at the tail end of the Soviet era in 1990, the restaurants are a symbol of American capitalism.
For most people, though, they’re just part of the urban fast-food landscape.
McDonald’s has been criticised by many Russian nationalists.
It famously pulled out of Crimea in April after Moscow annexed the region from Ukraine. That prompted calls for the chain to be shut down across Russia.
Foreign food producers who have fallen foul of the watchdog in the past have accused it of acting in the political interests of the Kremlin. It denies the allegation.
The watchdog banned Georgian wine as Tbilisi strengthened ties with Washington and spirits from Moldova after the former Soviet republic boosted its drive to partner with the European Union.
Earlier this month, Russia banned all meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetable imports from the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia for one year in retaliation for the sanctions imposed by these countries over the Ukraine crisis.
That’s hurting ordinary Russians by pushing up prices and causing shortages of some goods.