Russian officials took steamrollers and tractors to tons of seized cheeses, fruit, and other imported edibles Thursday to mark a year of retaliatory sanctions against Western foods.
Even as the country's poor suffer the fallout of Russia's recent recession and badly performing ruble, President Vladimir Putin issued a decree to destroy the banned imports from countries that had imposed sanctions on Russia as the conflict in Ukraine continues, according to the Associated Press.
The move was met with resistance from protesters who created a petition calling for officials to instead donate the goods to the country's needy, which have been particularly affected by the sanctions that have steeply shot up the price of goods. The destruction of so much food in the face of public hunger has outraged many of the country's citizens.
At least nine metric tons of contraband cheese were crushed in the Belgorod region on Thursday. Meanwhile, authorities are preparing to incinerate 20 metric tons of cheese in St. Petersburg and destroy 60 metric tons of tomatoes and peaches in Smolensk.
Russia first banned many Western imports — including cheese, fruits, and vegetables — last August in response to sanctions imposed by several EU countries and the US over the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea and its involvement in supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east. Russian lawmakers last month extended the ban on Western foods for another year.
Some smugglers have found ways to bypass the retaliatory sanctions. In July, Russian customs officials seized nearly 460kg (nearly half a metric ton) of cheese stuffed in the backseat and trunk of a man's car as he attempted to drive into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from Poland.
Russians are permitted to bring small amounts of goods for personal consumption into the country, but bringing in foods to be used for commercial purposes, including at restaurants, has been banned.
The Kremlin has said the ban will help encourage business flow to local producers, and many agriculture producers in the country have welcomed the sanctions. Some experts contend, however, that the government's claims are a long-term view that may take years to achieve, and in the meantime, food prices will sharply rise and drive more Russians below the poverty line.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.