Amid Ukraine tensions, Russia shuts four McDonald's

Reflection in window of a closed McDonald's restaurant, one of four temporarily closed by the state food safety watchdog, in Moscow, August 21, 2014. REUTERS

The question "where's the beef?" may have a few different answers in the case of four shuttered McDonald's (MCD) outlets in Moscow.

Russia's consumer-safety agency, known as Rospotrebnadzor, has shut the McDonald's restaurants for "numerous" sanitary law breaches, reports The Associated Press. The agency will also inspect McDonald's restaurants in the Urals after complaints about food safety, according to the report.

While on the face of it, the closings appear to represent a food-safety issue, there may be more political issues in play, given tense relations between Russia and the U.S. following American and European sanctions against Moscow for backing separatists in Ukraine. Russia has previously barred food products to make political points, such as its decision earlier this summer to ban food imports from Moldova after that country strengthened its ties to the European Union.

Food inspectors "have been instruments of Russian foreign policy for years," Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Wall Street Journal.

In a statement, McDonald's said it is "closely studying the subject of the documents to define what should be done to re-open the restaurants as soon as possible."

One of the Moscow locations that was closed is its Pushkin Square location, which was the first McDonald's to open in the country. When the restaurant opened its doors in 1990, Muscovites waited in lines for hours to buy their first Big Macs. It also took 14 years of negotiations for McDonald's to gain a foothold in the country, according to the Voice of America.

While the closings represent only a fraction of McDonald's more than 400 Russian locations, the move comes as the world's biggest restaurant chain is coping with food-safety issues in Asia, following allegations that a food processor sold it and other companies old meat.

Asian customers weren't lovin' that development, causing McDonald's sales in the region to slip. In the U.S., McDonald's is coping with competition from rivals such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, while a Consumer Report survey recently ranked the chain's burger as the worst among its peers.

  • Aimee Picchi

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