Russia threatens Moldovan rebel region with brandy ban


Transdniestria, a narrow sliver of Moldova along the border with Ukraine mainly populated by Russian speakers, has claimed independence since fighting a brief war after the breakup of the Soviet Union, but is not recognised by any state.The 70-year-old rebel leader, President Igor Smirnov, plans to seek a fifth term, but the Kremlin has made clear it wants him to step down.Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin said on Thursday Smirnov should step aside in favour of a younger, more diplomatic successor who could help end one of Europe’s most intractable frozen conflicts.Gennady Onishchenko, head of Rospotrebnadzor consumer protection agency, told reporters in Moscow that Russia was thinking of banning Transdniestria’s Kvint brandy, which is popular in Russia and one of the region’s singature exports.”In the near future we will undertake a whole range of measures regarding Transdniestria. This notorious Kvint brandy, there are many questions there,” Onishchenko was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.”Maybe we will restrict its imports to the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said.Onishchenko did not cite any specific consumer safety grounds for the ban. Russia has a history of imposing import bans on ex-Soviet countries and territories that fall out with the Kremlin.Russia banned imports of wine from Moldova last year, weeks after it irritated Moscow by adding a “Soviet occupation day” to its calender of national holidays. It has also banned imports of wine and bottled water from persistent foe Georgia.Smirnov said the proposed brandy ban was part of an effort by Moscow to pressure the rebels to hold negotiations with the government in Moldova.”I can give you a whole series of examples when a certain circle have blocked us, saying ‘negotiate with Moldova’,” he told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.”People in the presidential administration are trying to command our ministers by telephone,” he said of Naryshkin’s statements. “They will see, there is no way to strangle us!”Moldova and the breakaway region agreed last month to resume talks on settling their conflict. The rebels broke off talks in 2006 over a new customs regime brought in by Moldova and Ukraine, which they labelled an “economic blockade.”Transdniestria inherited a large chunk of Soviet Moldova’s industrial base, including the Tiraspol plant which made White Stork brandy, favoured by Soviet Communist party leaders and now marketed as Kvint.An executive at the plant who declined to be identified said over the telephone that Kvint brandy met quality standards and Onishchenko’s allegation were “a disgrace”.

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