Wendy's Is Latest Victim of Frosty Russian Relations

The Russian assault on American fast food shows Putin's weakness, not his strength.

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It should come as little surprise that the rebel-rousing, Assad-anchoring regime of Vladimir Putin would want to push American fast food from the Russian landscape.

In recent weeks, we've been hearing about the closing of McDonald's franchises in Crimea, which have been replaced by Putin-approved RusBurger outlets. As The Wire's Polly Mosendz wrote earlier this month, RusBurger hawks "The Taste of Russia," supplanting Big Macs and McNuggets with these imperial offerings:

Their signature items are the Czar Cheeseburger and the Bogatyr sandwich. Bogatyrs are large, strong men who make excellent warriors, and a big part of Russian literature and folklore. RusBurgers don't serve soda: instead, they opt for kampot, a pear lemonade. 

Pear lemonade? Feh!

But the offensive has continued onto the Russian mainland, where McDonald's is popular. As The Wall Street Journal noted last week, Russian food regulators filed a suit against McDonald's in part because of some alleged food labeling discrepancies. The chain replied that it had complied with standards set by the ominously-named Food Institute of the Russian Federation. But this matter is small fries.

The truth is that having squelched the vitality of all institutions that could possibly check his power, Putin is turning his gaze to the soft power of American businesses in the proxy war. First, it was McDonald's and now Wendy's, the Frosty-wielding, borscht-haired avatar of American goodness. As the LA Times reports:

Also on Monday, Wendy's Co., the No. 3 U.S. burger chain, announced it was leaving the Russian market after three years because of apparent discord with its local partners.

It added that just years ago, Wendy's had planned to open 180 franchises in Russia. Since Putin returned to power in 2012, only eight opened and they will now close.

Dave Thomas As Putin's Foil 

It only seems fitting that news of Putin's voyna against Wendy's comes at the same time that the chain announced it was testing customizable burgers as the empowering upshots of the fast casual surge wend their way through the American system. It's a metaphorical melange of things anathema to Putin's rigid vision, one embodied by free will, pleasure, and the opportunity to say what you want and do not want in rapid succession.

Wendy's founder Dave Thomas would have made a great foil for Putin. Thomas, who never knew his mother, was given a life by American adoption. A grateful advocate, Thomas founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption while one of Putin's first legislative acts was to ban American adoption.

Thomas, who sought quality, famously asked "Where's the beef?" Putin, who sought territory, famously asked "What is Ukraine? Part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us.”

Thomas' mentor was Harlan "The Colonel" Sanders, the benevolent founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Thomas and Sanders worked together in business before Thomas started Wendy's, the franchise he named for his daughter.

Putin's mentor was the Anatoly Sobchak, the first democratically elected mayor of Saint Petersburg, who was so corrupt he had to flee the country. After leveling the Chechen capital of Grozny, Putin had a street there named for himself.

Thomas, who lamented never having received his high school diploma, obtained his GED at 61, in a corrective late-in-life second act. Putin, now 61, has used his second act not to bring symmetry to his life and legacy on the world stage, but to bring more destruction.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.