What foods should I try in Russia?

Food: Russia remains dependent on imports

At the height of the Ukraine conflict in 2014, economic relations between Russia and the West deteriorated considerably. In response to extensive Western sanctions, Russia imposed a countermeasure on imports of most food products. As a deliberate side effect, the Russian economy should be forced to simply replace previously imported food with domestic products and thus become more independent of foreign suppliers in a time of tense political relations. Such a program for import substitution was launched in 2012 - as the largest country in the world, Russia apparently offers ideal framework conditions for this, especially for agricultural products.

Successful examples are often selective

Successful examples from the replacement of Western products repeatedly advanced to showcase projects for patriotically-minded Russians in the following years. In fact, a replacement was successful - before the Ukraine conflict, high-quality cheese was almost only available in Russia through imports from Italy and France, for example, and some agricultural centers in Russia developed into new cheese meccas that made their own fine mozzarella and other things. Swiss and German dairy farmers who immigrated to Russia, such as Stefan Dürr, also became symbolic media stars who were supposed to demonstrate that we can get everything from the Russian topsoil. In fact, in the mass market for end consumers, numerous foods that still have a Western brand logo emblazoned on them have been produced in Russian factories of foreign food giants since the 00s, which means that they have not been subject to sanctions.

But the import substitution was not really satisfactory in all areas. Even Putin had to admit in a speech in July that it is impossible to completely replace goods from abroad. Research by the Kommersant newspaper on the NRA agency at the beginning of December was even clearer. Only 65% ​​of EU goods could be replaced by local meat imports. In the case of dairy products, instead of the planned one third, only 20% was replaced by domestic products, and in the case of vegetables, almost three quarters were replaced by just 27%. Even with meat, the substitute did not work in every area. According to the media portal RBK, beef will be a third more expensive by 2022 due to the weak ruble exchange rate and customs problems - domestic production is growing too slowly.

Third countries as the successor to EU business

In order to reduce the dependence on the West - the political situation remains tense to this day - nevertheless, one can have more supplies from third countries. According to Kommersant, fish today often comes from Chile instead of Norway, and fruit from Ecuador instead of the EU. This can lead to hidden imports of sanctioned goods - Belarus, for example, made a name for itself at times as a repackager for western goods for the Russian market. China imports more and more vegetables from the EU and exports them to Russia in increasing quantities.

The Kommersant report caused quite a stir in Russia - after all, import substitution is part of the Kremlin's strategy, with which the rulers want to prove that the struggle with the West does little harm to the Russians' own well-being. The goal of the substitution program was never, Kremlin spokesman Peskow dictated into the microphone of the TASS news agency, to completely stop food imports. No country can afford such an import ban. In general, the import ban on the EU was imposed on Russia.

In the globally networked economy, not even Russia is self-sufficient and the replacement of products now from quasi “enemy” states is only possible with great effort and not always as planned. The only ones who are definitely left behind when it comes to import substitution are the producers in the countries that previously supplied the Russian market. Because whether the milk of the German farmer has been replaced by milk from Russia or Chile - or resourceful Belarusians replace it with the product of Finnish animals with Minsk packaging - the German dairy farmer no longer sells it.