Moldova was similarly bewildered when Russia announced a ban on Moldovan wines and spirits in September. “We will have to clarify where technical problems about the quality of Moldovan wine end and where the political aspects begin,” Economy Minister Valerii Lazar told Reuters.
Through it all, Onishchenko has clung steadfastly to his claim that the bans are a necessity for Russian consumers – while still glossing over the particulars of his concerns. “The 1 / 8Moldova 3 / 8 ban is a necessary step that we have undertaken reluctantly, but it is the only possible way of solving the present situation,” he told Interfax news agency. “There have been violations in technical preparation, storage and end production.”
Perhaps nothing irks Onishchenko more than wine made in Georgia – also the country with which Russia arguably has the most strained relationship. At a June press conference held when the original 2006 ban on Georgian wine and mineral water ended this year, he flew off the handle about the (pretty standard) practice of making wine from grapes. The Georgians “are destroying grapes by making wine from it,” he complained. “Grapes are a holy fruit, a fruit from God, worshipped by pagans and Christians alike, and they make alcohol from it!” When the conversation turned to Georgian mineral water, he waxed nostalgic, warning reporters that the Georgian import would not taste like it did back in Soviet days.
At times, Onishchenko’s public health opinions align rather neatly with the Kremlin’s domestic needs. In 2011, for instance, he issued warnings about the health dangers, including exposure to the flu and even SARS, of participating in massive protests in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square against parliamentary elections and Vladimir Putin’s party.
It’s not unusual, of course, for countries to wield trade restrictions as a weapon in punishing or arm-twisting geopolitical adversaries. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a food safety inspector out there with as much geopolitical clout as Russia’s foreign food czar.