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By John Helmer in Moscow

Russia’sconsumer protection service has issued a ban on imports of milk and dairy products from Belarus. Although the reason given publicly appears to apply to imports from the Ukraine, Lithuania, and Latvia, their milk trade has so far not been interrupted. This has encouraged speculation that the Kremlin is using the milk bottle to strike at Belarus President, Alexander Lukashenko.

TheRussian dairy product import market is worth about $6 billion per year, Moscow agriprod experts say; Belarus holds the largest share of about one-third, while Finland, New Zealand, Germany, and other European sources account for the remainder. Virtually all of Belarus’s milk exports go to Russia, so the sudden cutoff, which started Saturday and widened on Tuesday, is financially costly to the government in Minsk.

The head of Rospoterbnadzor (RPN), Gennady Onishchenko, claims the problem is that Belarus has failed to update the product information required by six-month old Russian package disclosure regulations. But his spokesman refuses to explain why non-compliance by other Baltic state exporters has not been hit with bans. A publication by RPN on May 29, reporting on package check for domestic dairy products, as well as imports, found that five Russian regions had no packaging that met the new rules, while 13 regions were reporting less than 50% compliance. Even in Moscow, the RPN report suggests, one product package in five being sold lacked the right information labels.

The RPN report also reports that non-compliance for Belarus imports was found in 49.8% of samples checked; that compares with 53.6% for Lithuanian products in the check; 71.4% for Latvian imports;and 90.6% for Ukrainian imports.

The spilt milk comes after days of hostile remarks by Russian officials aimed at President Lukashenko.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has issued a statement claiming “Russia has not started any sanctions against Belarus…These measures are dictated by a concern for the health of our consumers.” After a month of efforts by Russian ministers and food inspectors has failed to remedy an Egyptian government attack on Russian exports of wheat, Lavrov’s fresh claim that nothing political is happening isn’t believed in the trade.

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