180K+ sign petition against destruction of contraband food at Russian borders

© Alexandr Kryazhev
Over 180,000 people have backed a request to cancel the recent presidential order to destroy the contraband foodstuffs imported into Russia in violation of an embargo introduced last year in reply to Western sanctions.

The petition was published on the US-registered website change.org, which specializes in various public initiatives by a private person under the name Olga Savelieva. The author stated that the food embargo had caused a significant rise in food prices, forcing pensioners, large families and other poorer groups to restrict their consumption. She then calls for the president to cancel the order on destruction of smuggled edible items and asks the parliament to develop and pass a law that would allow the seized foodstuffs to be distributed to people in need, free of charge. 

Why destroy the food when we can simply eat it?” the author of the petition writes several times throughout the document. 

READ MORE: Putin agrees to destroy banned foodstuffs at Russian border crossings

On Wednesday Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the president would be informed about the petition that collected so many signatures, but at the same time expressed some doubt over the reliability of the source. 

One thing that can draw one’s attention is the fact that the resource [where the petition was placed] does not allow for any trustworthy identification of the signatories. This is why we will have to establish if the number of signatures is real, knowing the speed with which this number was reached,” Peskov said. 

Change.org does not offer any complicated user verification and requires only an email for any backer of any petition. The website’s policies have earlier caused controversies after it appeared it was selling the collected emails to political parties in the UK. 

Russia has its own online tool for petitioning – the ‘Russian Public Initiative’ website. Under a law passed in mid-2013, any motion published on this site automatically becomes a legislative initiative after gaining 100,000 signatures in support. However, verification on the state platform is more thorough. Also, only Russian citizens are allowed to participate and obviously only one vote per person is allowed.

READ MORE: Internet initiative: Public petitions get legislative legs

The presidential decree ordering all food products that have been imported to Russia in violation of the food embargo destroyed on the border comes into force on August 6. 

Agricultural products, raw materials and food items exported to the territory of the Russian Federation, with a country of origin that imposed sanctions against the Russian legal entities and/or individuals or joined said decision, and that are banned from entering the territory of the Russian Federation, are subject to destruction as of August 6, 2015,” the document reads. 

The ruling doesn’t apply to food items brought to Russia by individuals for personal use if they are accompanied by proper paperwork.

The previous rules ordered to send the seized contraband products back to the country of origin. 

The petition on Change.org was one of the most successful, but not the only or the first attempt by politicians and activists to use the controversial subject to gain public and media attention. 

Earlier this week, a lawmaker representing the center-left Fair Russia party proposed sending the banned food to the war-torn Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, which are suffering from a humanitarian crisis caused by the pro-Kiev military. Last week the longtime head of the Russian Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, said that the seized contraband food should be inspected by the special commission and if found safe sent to orphanages and to Donetsk and Lugansk. 

READ MORE: Leftist MP asks govt to send banned food to Donbass as aid

As the Russian parliament is currently on vacation, these suggestions have so far failed to gain any traction.