McDonald’s Boycott of Russia Heralds a New Cold War


In an email to staff, PepsiCo chief executive Ramon Laguarta noted that the company entered the Russian market at the height of the Cold War, saying it had “helped create a ground of agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union”.

Unilever – a major producer of food and hygiene products – announced that it had suspended all imports from and exports to Russia. Yum Brands, which has more than 1,000 restaurants nationwide, said it was suspending operation of company-owned KFC outlets and would soon close its Pizza Hut stores.

A military parade past posters of then Russian President Boris Yelsin and Coca-Cola in 1999. Credit:PA

A day earlier, jeans maker Levi’s announced it was suspending all sales in Russia – another symbolically strong moment.

During the Cold War, Levi’s jeans became synonymous with American capitalism – so much so that authorities in East Germany banned their sale. For young people living under communism and yearning for freedom, wearing them was as much a political statement as a fashion choice.

Similarly, the explosion of luxury stores in Russia in the early 1990s marked the arrival of a new era dominated by oligarchs. The rapid transfer of state-owned assets to private companies after the arrival of democracy enriched an elite of businessmen and their wives. Many enjoyed displaying their newfound wealth. Soviet-style asceticism was over, ostentatious consumption was in order.

Today, Russian buyers, accustomed to an abundance of capitalist choices, face a new period of Soviet-style scarcity.

A series of luxury goods stores, including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and Prada, have announced the closure of all their stores in Russia. Just like the cosmetics giant Estée Lauder.

Even though they are cut off from social media platforms and denied access to independent journalism, the corporate blockade makes it clear to Russians that their country has become a pariah state – a state increasingly isolated from the western world that it hastened to kiss.

Just three decades after the end of the previous one, a new Cold War has begun.