Sun, Apr 06, 2014 - Page 13 News List

McDonald’s set to exit contested Crimean market

FRIED MARKET:Russian aggression in Ukraine has driven firms in the region to reconsider their positions, to the detriment of workers

AFP, SIMFEROPOL, Crimean peninsula

Crimeans discovered on Friday that they would have to live without Big Macs for a while after McDonald’s suspended operations on the Ukrainian peninsula due to its annexation by Russia.

The omnipresent US fast-food chain said in a statement posted on its Ukrainian Web site and taped to the front doors of its shuttered restaurants that the decision was taken “for manufacturing reasons beyond the company’s control.”

It hit 21-year-old Lilia hard, because she had been employed there and had no suspicion that she was about to be out of work.

“They told us that we would be closing because Kiev was no longer sending us any ingredients,” she said as a girl next to her pulled at the restaurant’s locked door.

“Some people laughed. Others cried,” Lilia said. “It came as a surprise.”

Yet the move by the world’s biggest hamburger maker reflects a much broader uncertainty among Western firms about their positions in the region after the Kremlin’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Washington and the EU have both imposed punitive measures against Moscow officials and threatened broader economic sanctions that could affect the operations of McDonald’s and other companies with a broad Russian presence.

Ukraine’s postal service has also asked the UN agency in charge of coordinating global mail to halt service to Crimea, because the region’s seizure had created “difficulties delivering postal items.”

Germany’s Deutsche Post — the world’s largest courier — confirmed on Friday that it had stopped delivering “letters and parcels [to Crimea] weighing up to 2,000g.”

It added that larger parcels still found their way to the scenic region that is especially popular with Russian and Ukrainian tourists because these were being carried out for the German giant by a local firm.

McDonald’s insisted that it would like to reopen the stores in Crimea’s main city of Simferopol and the ports of Sevastopol and Yalta “as soon as there is an opportunity.”

It also promised jobs for its Crimean employees at the chain’s Ukrainian outlets and to relocate their family members to the mainland at its own expense.

Yet Lilia said only a handful of McDonald’s 200 to 300 Crimean employees were likely to take up their former employer’s offer.

Friday’s announcement was cheered by some top politicians in Russia who have been waging an increasingly vitriolic war of words with the West since last month’s start of the Crimean campaign.

“It’s very good that McDonald’s is closing its branches in Crimea. Let them close their branches over here too,” said nationalist Russian lawmaker and former presidential contender Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The Crimean authorities — their rule recognized by Moscow, but rejected as illegal by Kiev and the West — also put on a brave face on Crimean kids having to make due without their Happy Meals.

“We are happy to work with companies that want to operate In the territory of the Republic of Crimea,” Crimean regional finance minister Vladimir Levandovsky told reporters. “And those who do not want to operate here — that is their problem.”

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