US fast-food giant McDonald's said on Friday that it had closed its restaurants in Crimea, prompting fears of a backlash as a prominent Moscow politician called for all the chain's Russian outlets to be shut down.
In a statement emailed to FRANCE 24, McDonald's said the decision was strictly based on business and that it hoped to reopen the restaurants soon.
"Like many other multinational companies, McDonald's is currently evaluating potential business and regulatory implications which may result from the evolving situation in Crimea,” the statement read. “We believe it is prudent and responsible to sort through these details thoroughly. Additionally, due to the suspension of necessary financial and banking services, we have no option but to close our three restaurants in Crimea. It is important to note that this is strictly a business decision which has nothing to do with politics.”
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party, or LDPR, said in televised comments that he would welcome the closure of McDonald's restaurants throughout Russia.
``I will give an order to the LDPR local branches to place pickets outside all of McDonald's restaurants,'' he said.
His provocative statements are aimed mostly at his core support base of nationalist voters and do not represent official policy.
Other pro-Kremlin lawmakers quickly indicated the government has no intention of cracking down on McDonald's. Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy speaker of the lower house and a leading member of the main Kremlin party, United Russia, was quoted by the "Moskovsky Komsomolets" newspaper as saying that there is no plan to shut down McDonald's.
The company has more than 400 restaurants in Russia. The Crimean outlets are not franchises but owned and operated by McDonald's itself.
Its move to temporarily close restaurants in Simferopol, Sevastopol and Yalta is likely to be seen as emblematic of the rift in Western-Russian relations, now at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
Crimea's annexation by Russia, which Ukraine and the West do not acknowledge, has worried companies with assets in the Black Sea peninsula as it is unclear how the change might affect their businesses.
The closures follow an announcement by Geneva-based Universal Postal Deutsche Post that it was no longer accepting letters bound for Crimea as delivery to the region was no longer guaranteed.
Ukraine on brink of bankruptcy
Economic relations between Russia and Ukraine have nose-dived since Russia annexed Crimea last month in response to the ousting of Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovich after months of street protests in Kiev.
Targeted sanctions imposed on several prominent Russians by the United States and the European Union have alarmed some foreign investors.
Russia raised the price it charges Ukraine for gas on Thursday for the second time this week, almost doubling it in three days by cancelling previous discounts.
While that may hurt Russian sellers, it piles pressure on Ukraine, which is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Moscow has often used energy as a political weapon in dealing with its neighbors, and European customers are now concerned Russia might again cut off deliveries.
The Ukrainian government said it was looking at alternatives including buying gas from western neighbors, an option that would mean reversing flows in transcontinental pipelines.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)
Date created : 2014-04-05