Russian Embargo Worries Greek Farmers

ATHENS – Greek diplomats and Russian food inspection officers will meet Aug. 11 in Moscow in a last-ditch attempt to get Greece exempted from a food ban imposed by Russia on the United States and Europe in retaliation for western sanctions over the Kremlin’s involvement in Ukraine.

Greek officials were disappointed that earlier assurances from the Russian Embassy in Athens that Greek products would not be banned because Greece had argued against the sanctions proved incorrect as Russian President Vladimir Putin overruled any idea of an exemption.

Meanwhile, trucks loaded with fruit and other exports heading for Russia were turning around and returning, although Greece hoped that somehow there would still be an exception made because of the strong ties Athens has with Moscow.

Greek diplomats continued their contacts with Russian counterparts over the weekend, but hopes dimmed amid reports that Russia was turning to Turkey to cover any shortfall in food supplies.

Government officials sought to play down the potential impact of the Russian embargo, with Deputy Development Minister Notis Mitarakis repeating that Russia accounts for only 1.5 percent of Greek exports.

But some Greek farmers face major repercussions if the ban goes ahead. In the regions of Pella and Imathia in northern Greece for instance, around half of the fruit produced is exported to Russia.

Over the weekend, the first trucks piled with peaches from those regions crossed the border back into Greece as Russian importers cancelled their orders, awaiting a final decision by the government in Moscow.

In Imathia alone, some 9,000 tons of produce remained in refrigeration over the weekend, Kathimerini reported. Meanwhile, producers called for the fruit in the canceled consignments to be destroyed so price levels would be maintained. Putting too much fruit into the Greek market would cause prices to fall.

Farmers said they would seek compensation for their losses from the European Commission because the European Union sanctions, along with those from the United States, had precipitated the ban.

Kremlin officials are expected to finalize the list of banned exports early this week. A meeting of agricultural experts from all 28 EU member states has been arranged for Aug. 14 in Brussels in a bid to gauge the impact of Moscow’s actions.

Manolis Glezos, a Member of the European Parliament from the Greek major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party wrote Putin, appealing to his “sense of humanity” and asking him to “reconsider your decision as regards Greek farmers.”

Glezos, a World War II hero, referred to traditional close ties between Athens and Moscow, and to Greece’s active support for Russia on many occasions through history, noting that Greece was one of very few countries that did not dispatch troops against the Soviet Union in World War II. He appealed for an exemption from the ban.

I ask you not to enforce the embargo for Greek agricultural produce and hope you heed my words,” he said, referring to “the extreme deprivations” that crisis-hit Greeks are already suffering.

The veteran leftist also distanced himself from the ruling Greek coalition of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives and its partner, the PASOK Socialists, claiming that the government “has clearly lost its popular support.”