MOSCOW — To spite Europe, Russia has buried cheese, incinerated pork and crushed nectarines. Now, it is turning its attention to the Dutch and hitting them where it hurts most: flower imports.
Amid heightened tensions, especially over the Dutch investigation into the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster, Russia has announced that it may halt imports of Dutch flowers because of concerns that they are infected with pests.
And in a dramatic demonstration of intent, inspectors from Russia's sanitary watchdog on Tuesday burned a shipment of Dutch chrysanthemums at an airport using what appeared to be a homemade torch.
"Fresh cut flowers from the Netherlands infected with Western California thrips," said the agricultural watchdog's chief inspector, Yekaterina Slakova, presenting the lot that would soon be set aflame. The presenter announced that every box of Dutch flowers imported to Russia was being opened and inspected. Dutch flower imports to Russia were worth more than $200 million in 2014.
Retailers at the Flowers of Siberia festival taking place in Novosibirsk were watching the situation but not yet panicking, the festival organizer told the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
"We are not holding any roundtables about it, although florists and businessmen are discussing it," said Tatyana Abukhovich, the organizer, according to the newspaper.
Trade wars often enter into Russia's spats with neighbors. It has banned Georgian wine, dairy from the Baltic nations, and chocolate from Ukraine when relations have turned frosty, though officials usually cite health concerns. Only last week, however, did Russia begin to destroy food imports from the European Union, many of which have been banned as part of a tit-for-tat sanctions war between Russia and the West. The campaign has largely played out on national television and angered some Russians, who said it is disrespectful to burn food in a country that has experienced famine.
Others took to photoshop to ridicule the new policy.
("Ivan the Terrible kills his own cheese," a parody of the painting by Russian master Ilya Repin depicting Ivan the Terrible killing his own son).
In Russia, a $2.5 billion flower market, bouquets are ubiquitous. Roses are a must on a first date. An even number of flowers, particularly carnations, are laid at funerals. Prices skyrocket on March 8, International Women's Day. And it is tradition for schoolchildren to give bouquets to their teachers on the first day of class, Sept. 1.
Whether Dutch flowers will still be on sale by then remains to be seen.