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Russia Is Playing Whack-a-Mole with the Online Black Market for Imported Food

Russian officials have blocked three websites and sued four more that have been offering imported hot commodities such as cheeses, seafood, and meat.

by Hilary Pollack
May 12 2015, 11:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Chris Goldberg

Ever since Russia banned almost all food imports from the US, Norway, Canada, Australia, and the European Union back in August, its people have been feeling hunger pangs for some of their favorite internationally sourced meat, fish, cheese, milk, and produce.

Some domestic food producers are benefiting—Russian cheesemakers, for example, are happily picking up the slack left behind by the dearth of Brie. Filipino crocodile farmers, too, could be enjoying the nation's meat-hungry market … if Russians are ready to forgo beef and pork for a decidedly scalier kind of flesh.

But not all of them are, which is why the internet black market for forbidden foods has been thriving—until now. According to The Moscow Times, officials—led by Civic Chamber member Pavel Sychov—have blocked three websites specializing in imported cheeses, with federal prosecutors also filing suits against an additional four web stores that have offered banned foods from the EU and US. Cheese, seafood, and meats seem to be the hottest commodities.

In 2013, the EU exported $15.8 billion worth of food to Russia, encompassing one tenth of the union's total agriculture exports. That same year, Russia imported an additional $1.3 billion worth of food from the US. But after the Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the Ukraine crisis, Russia retaliated with the one-year ban currently in effect.

Though buying domestic is an option for some products, prices have risen due to the ban. On April 20, Russian officials announced that about 20 companies in Greece, Hungary, and Cyprus could be permitted to resume some exports to the nation after receiving audits. Earlier that month, Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with Vladimir Putin to discuss agricultural trade.

But that's not to be taken as a clue that Russia will be cozier with anyone else in the EU—on April 27, agricultural regulator Yulia Shvabauskene said that Russia was actually tightening restrictions on re-exports of European foodstuffs through Bulgaria.

Russian chefs, thankfully, have been finding creative ways to work around the ban, which has increased the cost of ingredients and made some products near-impossible to find. It turns out that a life without oysters may still be a life worth living—though Russians are undoubtedly counting down until they can be reunited with their beloved Brie.

Tagged:
meat
Munchies
Food
US
Norway
Internet
Cheese
Bulgaria
sanctions
black market
eu
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imports
brie