Happy meals may be on the chopping block in Moscow.
Reports from Rospotrebnadzor -- the Russian Consumer Protection Agency say Russian officials have filed a claim accusing McDonald's of violating consumer-safety and labeling regulations. If accepted, the claim would ban the production of certain signature Mc-D foods like burgers and milkshakes. Talk about taking on the West!
You can't get more American than McDonald's. Russia is home to about 400 restaurants of the fast-food chain. I was in Moscow in 1990 when the first McDonald's opened in the then-Soviet Union. Hundreds of Soviet citizens lined up to sample Big Macs and small fries. Overnight, there were Russian Ronald McDonald fans in a country of 140 million.
That's a lot of happy meals.
At the time, the opening of McDonald's in Moscow was somewhat of a breakthrough with the West. Indeed, two years later, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev would introduce the world to glasnost and perestroika. Many believed that the United States and Russia and the emerging newly independent republics would march peacefully together through the golden arches of history. In fact, the "McDonald's theory of war," coined in 1996 by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, held that no country with a McDonald's outlet would go to war with another country with a McDonald's. Underpinning the theory is the idea that countries with middle-class incomes large enough to sustain Western fast-food chains, have achieved a certain level of prosperity -- and patience to stand on line for consumer goods.
McDonald's is a good housekeeping seal of international normalcy.
Perhaps then, it should not be surprising that in 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin is thumbing his nose at this staple of American culture. In 2012, Putin pounced on U.S. adoptions of Russian children. In 2013, he closed the Moscow office of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Kremlin has even gone after punk rock.
Cracking down on food and music is one thing but events have escalated out of control with more serious onslaughts including the Crimean land grab at the time Moscow picked a fight with Kiev over a decision by Ukraine to join the European Union. Like pieces of a puzzle, it all starts to fit. Anything that smacks of capitalism and interferes with cronyism is now forbidden fruit in Russia.
It would be bad enough if Russia's anti-Western stance stopped at menus and money. But now we are talking about missiles used by Russian separatists, likely supplied by Russian military, to shoot down civilian aircraft over Ukraine. That is a bridge too far.
The time has come for the West to say "nyet" to Russia. That means more economic sanctions and fewer visas for Russian tycoons coming to do business in Brooklyn or Berlin. Russia needs to pay a price for its behavior -- a cost higher than a Big Mac.
It's fine if Russians choose not to eat our food. (Even some Americans can't stomach fast foods.) Just leave culinary choices to your own citizens. Russia must respect the rights of people to choose what they eat and where they live. At a minimum, don't disturb the peace.