Jan Cienski in Warsaw -
As the European Union levels another round of sanctions against Russia, Polish apple, apricot and cabbage producers are among the first to suffer a blowback. A Russian ban on Polish fruit and veg imports has created a patriotic reaction, with Poles touting apples as the best defence against Vladimir Putin.
Russia's veterinary and phytosanitary authority announced a ban on the import of a range of Polish agricultural products starting August 1. The ostensible reason is they're laced with pesticides and a startling array of pests.
"Taking into account the whole range of risks associated with the situation ... Rosselkhoznadzor considers it possible to take urgent measures," the Russian veterinary and phytosanitary agency said.
Rosselkhoznadzor regularly embroils itself in political tangles, imposing embargoes on imports from countries having political problems with Russia. Since the start of the year it has announced numerous bans on food products, mostly from Central and Eastern European countries.
On August 1 it announced it has halted Ukrainian fruit juice imports. That adds to a block on dairy products from its neighbour, which it has also threatened with a blanket food import blockage.
Moldova has seen fruit and meat blocked from the Russian market in addition to the halt put on wine deliveries in 2013. Latvian and Lithuanian pork is also not welcome. Vilnius saw its dairy producers hit last year.
Like the Baltics, Poland has been one of the strongest advocates for tough sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and for support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Polish media report worries that Moscow is also preparing to ban beef and poultry imports from the country, after Russian officials claimed they had found dangerous bacteria.
Although financial ties between the two countries are relatively small - mutual foreign direct investment totals no more than around $1.1bn - the trading relationship is much larger. Poland imported goods to the tune of €19bn from Russia last year, mostly oil, gas and other raw materials. It sent €8bn the other way, mostly machinery, chemicals and food products.
Of that, agricultural products, and particularly apples, play an important part. Poland is the world's largest apple exporter, and about 70% of Polish apples are sent to Russia. The Russian ban clearly constitutes a painful blow to Polish orchard owners.
Stepping to the rescue is Grzegorz Nawacki, an editor at the Puls Biznesu newspaper. On his blog he has called for Poles to start eating as many apples as possible.
"If every one of us starts to eat more apples and to drink more cider we'll help producers and minimise the effect of the Russian embargo on the Polish economy - and besides we'll be healthier," he wrote.
The response to the hashtag #jedzjablka has been enormous, with politicians and celebrities posting photos of themselves eating apples on Facebook and Twitter. Even Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski joined in, extolling the virtues of the Polish apple.
Still, it's going to take a lot of eating to make up for lost exports to Russia. Poland sells 1.2m tonnes of apples a year to Russia. That comes to 50kg per Pole, or 300 apples. An apple a day indeed.
Meanwhile, Warsaw is seeking more conventional routes to help its farmers. Warning Poland could loose as much as €500m from the Russian move, Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki has appealed to the European Commission for compensation.
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