ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Moscow will lift its embargo on European and U.S. foods only when the West scraps its sanctions against Russia, a top Russian official said on Thursday.
The Russian economy has been weighed down by the sanctions the West imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukrainian conflict. In retaliation, Moscow introduced a food embargo, banning dairy products, vegetables and meats from the EU, U.S. and other countries.
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday "the embargo will stay" if the West prolongs its sanctions." He defended the ban by saying it "wasn't a goal in itself" but rather a means to support agricultural producers at a time when interest rates are high and banks are having difficulty obtaining long-term financing from abroad.
The ban hit European agricultural producers hard. About 10 percent of EU agricultural exports, worth about 11.8 billion euros, went to Russia last year. Some countries, including Poland, used to send half of their agricultural production to Russia.
Even if the sanctions against Russia are lifted, Dvorkovich said the government will continue its efforts to boost domestic production in agriculture and pharmaceuticals to replace imports.
"It's not a matter of choice, it's a must," he said. "We need to provide for ourselves with quality products."