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Budapest: President Vladimir Putin has sparked outrage not only from dissidents but from ordinary Russians and usually loyal supporters with an order that smuggled Western food should be “incinerated on the spot”.

Kremlin adviser Yevgeny Bobrov​ described the order as “high-handed” and analysts said it could go down badly in a country where a third of the population still lived in poverty.

Illegally imported food is destroyed in the Belgorod region, Russia image www.crimefiles.net
Illegally imported food is destroyed in the Belgorod region, Russia, on Thursday.Russians have been used for a year to seeing “cheese-like substance” rather than real cheddar on the supermarket shelves since President Putin declared an embargo on EU imports in retaliation for Western sanctions over Ukraine. But the order to actually destroy food came as a shock to many.
AdvertisementRussians were signing an online petition calling for the food to be given to the needy. “Why should we destroy food that could feed veterans, pensioners, the disabled, those with large families or those who have suffered from natural disasters?” said the appeal to the government.

President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, already embroiled in a scandal about the expensive watch he wore at his recent wedding, struck a note of “let them eat cake” indifference when he questioned whether the signatures on the petition had been verified.
President Vladimir Putin's order to destroy illegally imported food was implemented in the Belgorod region image www.crimefiles.net

President Vladimir Putin’s order to destroy illegally imported food was implemented in the Belgorod region on Thursday.

But there was no doubt about the identity of Vladimir Solovyov, a usually pro-Kremlin television host, who tweeted: “I don’t understand how a country that lived through the horrible hunger of the war and terrible years after the Revolution can destroy food.”

Solovyov hit the mark with this comment, for food occupies an almost sacred place in Russian culture.

Those who survived the wartime Siege of Leningrad (today’s St Petersburg), when the starving licked glue from the back of wallpaper for the protein, taught their children and grandchildren that it was a sin to throw away even a crust of stale bread. The message was reinforced by the Orthodox Church.

Members of Eat the Russian food movement check food at a Moscow food store image www.crimefiles.net

Members of “Eat the Russian food” movement check food at a Moscow food store this week. Photo: AP

One Russian wrote on Facebook: “My mother used to smack me if I wasted a piece of bread. She would cut out the bit where I’d left my teeth marks and save the rest of the slice for the next meal.”

For many, the President’s draconian measure will be all the harder to comprehend given than Mr Putin himself came from a poor family in St Petersburg. He claims now to be a devout Orthodox Christian and has repeatedly sought to bolster his power by evoking the wartime spirit.

Moral issues aside, the order to destroy food raised a host of economic questions.

When the embargo against imports was first introduced, the authorities portrayed it as a chance for Russia to develop its domestic agriculture and industry. Instead, a black market sprang up, as evidenced by spray-painted signs on the asphalt in Moscow, with the word “parmesan” and a mobile telephone number for anyone who was interested.

The new government order is for food to be destroyed “by any means that do not harm the environment”, almost an open invitation for the corrupt to fake food bonfires and divert goodies onto the black market.

As a compromise, some experts suggested reprocessing the high-quality, even gourmet food, into animal feed, which only brought more howls of protest from people who live on a basic diet of bread, boiled sausage and macaroni.

Undeterred, one high-ranking government official, Dmitry Chugunov, approved the idea of stiff jail sentences for food smugglers, saying: “If we don’t kick this food addiction, we will never learn to build worthy cheese factories for ourselves.”

President Putin has enjoyed sky-high ratings for years, in large part because of his ability to speak to the common man. But with his persecution of food, it seems he may have lost touch with the public.

“It’s started. In Samara [a city on the Volga River], they are burning pork. If you ask me, they [the powers that be] will break themselves over this one, the public execution of food,” wrote Olga Bakushinskaya, an opposition journalist who recently left Russia for Israel.

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