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World

Russia Ban Threatens U.S., European Agriculture Products

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's consider some of Russia's recent moves - they have now granted Edward's Snowden three more years of asylum. A lawyer for the former NSA contractor revealed that this morning. This decision is a thumb in the eye of the Obama administration. Once more, Russia has announced sanctions against Western countries. Among other things, they have banned the import of certain agricultural products from the U.S., the EU and other nations. And after withdrawing most of its troops from the border with Ukraine, Russia has sent them back - 20,000 according to NATO. We reached a reporter Kathrin Hille in Moscow - she's with the Financial Times. So let's just step back a bit for a moment. After that Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down at Eastern Ukraine, and many people in the West blamed Russia, Russia was hit with really tough economic sanctions. And this was to supposed to get Russia to back off its support of the separatists, but it doesn't look like that's happening.

KATHRIN HILLE: Well, it's maybe still early days, but the plan was that - that these sections should - by gradually increasing the pain on - on Russia, should make parts of the elite uncomfortable and trying to influence Putin - certainly at the moment it doesn't seem to working. I mean, Russia has raised concerns about a humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine. At the U.N., it's pretty clear that Russia in general is still supporting the separatists with people and with weapons.

GREENE: You say a humanitarian or peacekeeping, that of course is the message from Russia that there are separatists who have been under attack, as Russia would say, from the Ukrainian military and Russia saying that they might need to go in and protect them. But that's not the only - only thing Russia has done. They've actually hit the west with their own economic sanctions. Describe those for me if you can.

HILLE: Yes, yesterday Mr. Putin signed a decree that allows Russia to ban food imports from a wide range of countries - basically all countries that have adopted sanctions against Russia. And Russia could block all agricultural imports from all EU countries, the U.S., Canada, Australia - there's also been discussions in the cabinet on the option of blocking overflight rights over Siberia for western airlines headed to Asia, and that could increase the cost for those airlines quite a bit.

GREENE: You know, the - the sanctions on food products you mentioned - I remember times over the years when, for example, chicken producers in Delaware were very concerned if the Russian market was cut off. Do these types of sanctions have real teeth? I mean, could have an impact or are they largely symbolic?

HILLE: For the U.S., if we take the example of chicken, they might not be as damaging or hurtful today as they would have been a decade ago because although Russia is still the second largest export market for U.S. chicken, the percentage in total chicken exports has gone down. But still it would be hurtful. And for a lot of EU countries this could be very bad.

GREENE: As we look at this back and forth, I mean, both rhetoric and sanctions coming from both sides in this larger battle over Ukraine, I mean, do you see anything the west might do to change Putin's course and sort of bring the West and Russia together in find a solution to this?

HILLE: Russia has said it wants federalization of Ukraine. What that means is they want regions in the east and in the south that have many at Russian speakers to have strong representation in Ukraine's domestic political landscape, and maybe also including a say in things that might help them to block things like further moving towards the west, joining the EU and most importantly joining NATO. As long as the West doesn't agree to significant negotiations that would give Russia a say in this, I think it might be very difficult.

GREENE: Kathrin Hille is the Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times, and she joins us from Moscow. Kathrin, thanks very much.

HILLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.