And speaking of cheese, the Interior Ministry this week released footage of a bust of what it called a “major cheese-smuggling ring.” Some 470 tons of forbidden cheese was found and six members of the alleged cheese mafia were arrested.
And why stop with food? The head of the Russian Association of Textile Manufacturers says contraband foreign clothing should also be destroyed. Russian authorities have also begun removing household products manufactured by Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and other leading Western companies from stores, claiming health risks.
It’s hard to wrap your head around all this craziness. At first glance, the Kremlin’s jihad against all things Western looks like the post-imperial temper tantrum of a regime that is truly losing the plot. And perhaps it is. Russia’s leaders want their empire back, dammit, and if they can’t have it they’re going to smash their dinner plate on the floor and trash their room.
“All the falling regimes share an interesting pattern. Before a fall they start acting crazy, they are struck by the epidemic of mass idiocy,” political analyst Valery Solovei wrote on Facebook. “This is exactly what’s going on right now in Russia. From the public destruction of food, to the attempt to ban Wikipedia, to the prohibition of importing household goods and all the other idiocy large and small.”
Or perhaps there is a method to the madness. Perhaps Putin’s Kremlin is preparing society for what is coming in an era of low oil prices, a weak ruble, sanctions, and a long-term confrontation with the West. Consider it reverse shock therapy.
In a recent article, economist Vladislav Inozemtsev, the director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies, wrote that the Russian economy was heading for an era of austerity and autarky, with thousands of private businesses going under and the state sector expanding.
“The real consequence will be Russia’s retreat from the global market and its economy’s transformation into one which is much more closed,” Inozemtsev wrote. “This way leads us towards a quasi-Soviet economy detached from the world and, at the same time, proud of its autarky; towards a deteriorating economy which compensates for the drop in living standards with pervasive propaganda.”
Is it working? If the public reaction to the destruction of contraband foreign food is any indication, the results are mixed.
A survey by the state-run All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM) showed that 46 percent favored the destruction of banned food and 44 percent opposed. A poll by the independent Levada Center showed just 40 percent supporting it and 48 percent opposing.
“Can Russia ‘opt out’ of contemporary globalization? I do not see any reasons which would prevent this,” Inozemtsev wrote. “How long will it remain stable under the new conditions? I believe much longer than the majority of today’s analysts are prepared to admit.”