Russia's food safety watchdog has ordered the temporary closure of the fifth McDonald's restaurant in less than two weeks in a seemingly tit-for-tat move against Western companies operating in the country following the latest round of sanctions against the Kremlin.
Rospotrebnadzor, the country's consumer protection agency, said it had launched an inspection on one of McDonald's fast food restaurants in Yekaterinburg in the Urals region as a result of "hygiene concerns".
The latest closure comes just days after the same watchdog shut three restaurants in Moscow, including the country's first McDonald's opened in 1990 as a symbol of Western culture, and one in Stavropol alleging "multiple violations" of Russia's sanitary laws.
A spokeswoman for McDonald's said the chain is studying the claims and looks to reopen operations in the five restaurants affected by the closure as soon as possible, adding: "We will do our best to continue the success of McDonald’s business in Russia".
Diplomatic relations between the West and Russia have hit a post-Cold War low point following the annexation of Crimea, which has unleashed tensions between the Kremlin and Kiev amid fears of a full-on Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
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Washington and the European Union have accused the Kremlin of arming pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine following the shooting of the Malaysia Airlines plane on 17 July as it flew over a rebel-controlled area. Moscow has consistently denied this is case and recently announced it would ban food imports from the West in response.
"This is about heading off sanctions threats," said Timothy Ash from Standard Bank. "Russia is looking to increase the pressure on the west to head off the threat of further sanctions."
Despite the hostile rhetoric, Russia’s deputy prime-minister Arkady Dvorkovich insisted over the weekend that the Russian government has no intention of banning McDonald's from doing business in the country, adding that the latest round of sanctions "just happened at the time the inspection" took place.
Last week, French bank Société Générale, which owns a stake in Russian subsidiary Rosbank, warned that British American Tobacco, BASF chemicals, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Alstom and E.ON. are the most exposed Western companies to political risks as they generate large revenues in Russia.