Russia has ramped up its scrutiny of McDonald's restaurants a day after four branches in Moscow were shuttered. As Sonia Legg reports some see the move as politcally motivated by sanctions over Ukraine.
Four branches in Moscow are closed and others elsewhere in Russia are being inspected. What's going on at McDonalds? The country's food safety watchdog says the closures are linked to "numerous" breaches of sanitary rules. Others see a link to the current poor relationship between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) MCDONALD'S CUSTOMER, IVAN, SAYING: "They occasionally kick us with different sanctions. Why can't we do something in return? McDonald's is such a symbol of everything Western, I think it is a good symbolic step that shows we have some teeth." McDonald's Russian unit said it was looking at the authority's claims. One of the closed branches is the busiest in the world - wedding receptions have even been held there. Parts of the restaurant have been sealed off and some customers say there must be good reason. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) MOSCOW RESIDENT, ANATOLY, SAYING: "The idea that there are political motives should be ruled out immediately, because as far as I know, the whole production cycle is here and only the brand is American." McDonald's first opened in Russia in 1990. It was seen as a sign that Cold War tensions with the United States were starting to thaw. It seems things have changed. Sanctions against Russia are hurting the economy there and retaliatory ones by the Kremlin are also starting to bite. Jeremy Batstone-Carr from Charles Stanley says tensions over Ukraine are on a steady upward path. (SOUNDBITE) (English): JEREMY BATSTONE-CARR, DIRECTOR PRIVATE CLIENT RESEARCH, CHARLES STANLEY, SAYING: "This simply looks like the next stage and indeed Russia has warned for some time that in might potentially take further action so this development I would view in that context. It would not surprise me if there was a further escalation particularly if talks aimed at de-escalating the tensions between Russia, the United States and the countries of the euro zone fail to make any headway." The exact nature of the alleged "sanitary" breaches hasn't been revealed. The food safety watchdog simply says there had been complaints about the quality and safety of the products. It will now conduct checks - both scheduled and unscheduled - across several Russian regions. It denies its actions are politically motivated.