KIEV, Ukraine – Talk about a Big Mac attack. Here’s a sanction with some real bite to it.
The three McDonald’s restaurants in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that has been abruptly annexed by Russia, are now closed. The Ukrainian branch of McDonald’s, based in Kiev, said in a statement Thursday that they had been closed for technical reasons, perhaps referring to the difficulty of supplying your restaurants when they turn up in a foreign country overnight.
Although the United States has imposed financial and other sanctions on Moscow because of its Crimean takeover, American businesses have been left free to operate in Russia. McDonald’s said the closing was temporary, but its offer to move employees to other jobs in mainland Ukraine - and give them a three-month rent payment - made that assertion sound less than persuasive.
Crimean officials tried to minimize the enormity of being forever deprived of the seductive phrase, “Would you like fries with that?”
"There were only three restaurants: near the railway station in Simferopol, on the square near the central embankment in Yalta, and in Sevastopol,” Economic Development Minister Svetlana Verba told Interfax in a telephone interview Friday. “There is nothing horrible in that. Another structure will come in."
Perhaps, with no McDonald’s latte in reach, she was feeling decaffeinated. She sounded so. "I only learned about it 15 minutes ago,” she said. “We don't need businessmen who do not want to be friends with Crimea, those who do not understand the situation Crimea is in, and those who don't support us. We will have no problem finding those who can calmly develop this business, occupy this niche."
The chain has been operating in Ukraine since 1997. Kiev has one right on the Maidan, the Independence Square where the revolution began in November, resulting in the hasty departure of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February. Faced with a new Western-oriented government in Kiev, Russia barreled into Crimea.
The Maidan McDonald’s, which soldiered on during most of the three-month protest, was briefly turned into a counseling center but reopened a few days ago. Even when those doors were shut, McDonald’s wrappers fluttered cheerfully in the wind – there’s another busy one a few blocks away.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a reliable bad boy of Russian politics, known for his flamboyance and provocative statements on many topics, quickly jumped into the sizzling oil Friday.
"McDonald's has shut down its restaurants in Crimea,” the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party told Interfax in Moscow. “That is very good. I wish it did the same here. I will instruct LDPR's city organizations to hold rallies near all McDonald's restaurants." (LDPR is his party.)
"I want them to get out of my sight. Then we will deal with Pepsi-Cola."
Great. A new Cola War.