Citing food safety concerns, a Russian government agency has warned that it may place temporary restrictions on growing imports of tomatoes and cucumbers from Armenia.
The agricultural safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor said late on Thursday that it found “quarantine organisms” in seven tomato and cucumber consignments which Armenian exporters attempted to ship to Russia via Georgia from May 3-9. The agricultural produce was sent back to Armenia as a result, it said in a statement.
The statement demanded that the Armenian Agriculture Ministry launch an inquiry and “take measures to prevent such instances.” Failure to do so will lead the Russian side to restrict Armenian agricultural imports, it warned.
The Armenian ministry’s State Service for Food Safety said on Friday that it is now “clarifying details of the incident.” “The Service has already taken necessary measures to further tighten controls on the safety of exported fruits and vegetables,” it said.
In recent years, Rosselkhoznadzor has cited similar safety concerns to ban or restrict food imports from countries at loggerheads with Russia, including Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Its latest move therefore fueled speculation that Moscow is sending a warning to Armenia’s new political leadership that has swept to power as a result of massive protests that toppled Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian on April 23.
Armenia’s trade representative in Moscow, Karen Asoyan, dismissed such suggestions. “There is nothing extraordinary,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “This is just a warning, not a restriction.”
In Asoyan’s words, Russian food safety inspectors reported similar problems with Armenian agricultural imports on several occasions last year and the two sides “cooperated” to sort them out. “Russia detects more than a thousand such cases relating to fruits and vegetables on its borders each year,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was unusually quick to congratulate the protest leader, Nikol Pashinian, on becoming Armenia’s prime minister on May 8. The two men are due to meet on Monday on the sidelines of a Eurasian Economic Union summit to be held in the Russian city of Sochi.
Armenian exports to Russia have grown rapidly in the last few years. Agricultural products account for a large part of those exports.