Russia Bans Lithuanian Dairy Amid Eu Tensions

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On Saturday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov described the group’s protest at the partially-constructed Prirazlomnaya platform — Russia’s first offshore oil rig in the Arctic which is owned by the state-controlled Gazprom — as “pure provocation.” He further noted that Russia had repeatedly called on the Netherlands to stop the “illegal activity” of the Dutch-registered Greenpeace vessel, Arctic Sunrise, and its 30-strong crew. “Unfortunately, this was not done. Therefore, we have far more questions for the Dutch side than they can have for us,” Meshkov pointed out, adding, “Everything that happened with the Arctic Sunrise was pure provocation.” The Netherlands filed a lawsuit against Russia in the UN’s Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on Friday, in a bid to win the immediate release of the ship and those onboard. “The Netherlands today began an arbitration procedure on the basis of the (United Nations) Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote in a letter to the parliament. Greenpeace lawyer, Jasper Teulings, also stated, “Russian officials will now be called to explain their actions before an international court of law, where [they] will be unable to justify these absurd piracy allegations.” All 30 Greenpeace activists are currently being held in custody in the northern Russian city of Murmansk. Earlier this week, Russian authorities pressed piracy charges against them, which is punishable with up to 15 years in prison. The Greenpeace activists, who hail from 18 countries, were detained on September 18, while boarding Prirazlomnaya oil platform. Greenpeace insists that the activists merely intended to stage a peaceful protest in international waters to highlight the environmental risks posed by oil drilling in Arctic waters. Greenpeace activists will be holding rallies in 170 locations across 45 countries on Saturday to condemn the arrests. MP/SS

“There is every likelihood that Russia will begin limiting the admission of individual groups of dairy products on October 7,” news agencies quoted Russia’s public health inspector Gennady Onishchenko as saying. “At the start of next week, we will launch a series of measures aimed at halting the admission… of Lithuanian products that do not meet Russian legal requirements aimed at protecting consumer rights.” ITAR-TASS said Russia has already imposed some import restrictions on Lithuania’s top cheese producer Pieno Zvaigzdes. Russia first warned it may ban Lithuanian dairy imports on Wednesday due to “sanitary and epidemiological risks”. Tests on Lithuanian food products had “yielded unsatisfactory results”, Onishchenko said at the time. The dairy industry, which is responsible for about one-fifth of Lithuania’s agricultural production, is a vital source of export revenue. Moscow’s restrictions would be especially painful because the Russian market accounts for about 85 percent of Lithuania’s total dairy exports. The nation of three million, which hopes to swap its currency for the euro by 2015, is keen to avoid any economic shocks that may derail those plans. It has also sought the defence of larger European countries by promoting a united EU stance against Russia’s trade bans. Moscow has frequently been accused of using import restrictions as a weapon against ex-Soviet countries seeking greater independence or warmer relations with the West. Russia has slapped trade sanctions on Moldova and Georgia during those countries’ attempts to set up a process for their eventual membership in the European Union. It has also twice cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine and waged brief energy wars with Belarus. Lithuania’s dairy industry already faced Russian restrictions in mid-2009 when local milk and cheese producers expressed fears of being squeezed from their own market. But Russia’s important bans have been known to backfire, and there were signs Saturday that Ukraine was edging ever closer to signing the EU association and free trade deal.