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End of an era in Russia as sanctions bite and Western companies take flight

When thousands of Russians lined up in Moscow’s busy Pushkin Square on January 31, 1990 to enter the country’s first-ever branch of McDonald’s, the moment represented a seismic cultural shift.

The Iron Curtain, which had divided Eastern and Western Europe for decades, had only just collapsed. Now the fast-food chain beloved by Americans and many others could serve up Big Macs to Russian customers.

Thirty-two years later, McDonald’s has nearly 850 branches across the country. But on Tuesday, it announced their doors would close. Like many other big Western brands, including IKEA, H&M, Coca-Cola and Starbuck’s, McDonald’s has decided to suspend its operations in Russia in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. PepsiCo has also said it will stop selling some of its products there, including Pepsi Cola and 7-Up.
Of course, Russians can choose to eat elsewhere and buy other goods — many homegrown chains have sprung up across the vast country since the demise of the Soviet Union.
But the decision of these international brands to suspend trading in Russia — following several rounds of punishing Western sanctions and massive public pressure on moral grounds — still represents the end of an era.


“Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s were the symbols of westernizing Russia, Russia opening to the world. And the fact that these companies are leaving… signals and highlights the extent to which Russia is closing and turning inwards,” said Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, a professor of Russian politics at King’s College London’s Russia Institute.

That first McDonald’s on Pushkin Square, known as Pushkinskaya Square to Russians, situated 700 burger joints and was for quite a long time the organization’s biggest outlet anyplace on the planet. Youthful working class Russians experiencing childhood during the 1990s considered McDonald’s to be some place cool and alluringly unfamiliar, a café where you’d take companions to celebrate unique birthday events.


As the 21st century moved on, the chain appeared to be a less intense image of American culture yet stayed a most loved setting for Russian understudies to meet for reasonable snacks or dates, and offered a quick, modest feasting choice for other people. Its branches likewise offered work chances to a huge number of Russians.
All that is presently gone, basically for years to come. “Our qualities mean we can’t disregard the unnecessary human enduring unfurling in Ukraine,” said McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski in a message to staff Tuesday reporting the organization’s suspension of activities in the country. He added that it was “difficult to foresee” when its cafés could resume.


“Regardless of whether it is a conclusion of a significant time period, it’s difficult to say at this moment, numerous onlookers really do expect that it very well may be, and that will rely upon how lengthy it will take Russia to go through the troublesome, dull, poisonous tyrant cut extremist tyrannical period,” said Sharafutdinova by telephone. “We are likewise evident that to move away from this will require a great deal of exertion – – social, political, monetary, and authority.”

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