The standoff between Russia and its neighboring Ukraine uncovered yet another layer of tension on March 18th when a Russian court ruling closed a Ukrainian-owned Roshen chocolate factory in Lipetsk. After the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych by pro-west protesters, the relationship between the nations has grown steadily worse.
The Lipetsk-based Roshen factory’s manager Taisiya Voronina has been accused of illegally using a registered trademark to earn extra cash. Voronina rejects the charges while many of her now unemployed workers believe it is a political attack on Ukraine, rather than a serious legal case.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, has responded to the claims saying it is, “unjust to say…selective measures are undertaken against certain companies. Russia is interested in maintaining an atmosphere of trust [in] its…business climate.”
Not only the factory workers, but critics in Ukraine also believe the case is political. Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian owner of Roshen, is a current front runner in the nation’s upcoming presidential elections in May. In response to the closure in Lipetsk, Ukrainian officials have promised to file compensation claims for assets lost to Russia in its Crimea region.
The pro-Russia Crimea held a referendum on March 16th, voting on whether to join Russia or remain in Ukraine. The vote, which Ukraine and its western backers believe violated international law, showed 97% support for the move to Russia. Two short days later, President Putin signed a treaty in parliament which effectively regained Crimea for Russia.
The closure of Roshen’s factory was initiated by police, who invaded the building requesting the immediate evacuation of all workers. “We [can’t] understand what is happening,” said Voronina.
Although the closed doors of what Voronina called her “child” come as a shock, she said the Ukrainian chocolate business has been in trouble since the beginning of the standoff with Russia. Last July, when then President Yanukovych was leaning into a trade deal with the European Union, Roshen chocolates were banned from Russia.
The Russian government was angered at Yanukovych’s apparently west-leaning politics which were supported by Roshen’s Poroshenko. The Russian government said the ban was a result of health concerns, saying the chocolates contained a possible carcinogenic additive called Benzopyrene, though many questioned the obvious coincidence with Poroshenko’s political activities.
Though the ban was lifted last November, the court ruling which closed its doors began in 2010. The trademark in question is a silhouette of a swallow popularized during the Soviet era. The Russian government claims the case is completely independent of its tense relations with Ukraine. Although, it is important to note the court ruling came the same day Crimea joined Russia.
“I cannot say anything bad about our [Ukrainian] investors,” said Voronina. “They are our partners [and] owners. They have never done anything bad to us.”
The crisis in Ukraine has grown from peaceful protests to ousting a president to losing a chuck of country. Russian officials have remained solidly against the entire Ukrainian protest and the interim government it produced. The many layers of Ukraine’s evolving atmosphere are now leaking into its chocolate business, causing political stagnation to rise even higher.
By Erin P. Friar