Russian President Vladimir Putin's latest show of defiance against Western adversaries has deployed bulldozers, steamrollers and tractors to destroy hundreds of tons of illegally imported food in televised spectacles that some of his own countrymen are calling absurd and grotesque.
In a country where millions starved in the 1930s when the Soviet Union's communist rulers forced collectivized agriculture on the peasantry, the Kremlin's highly publicized enforcement of its year-old ban on European Union food imports is stirring protest among advocates of the poor and those with memories of Soviet-era shortages.
Since Putin's Aug. 6 decree ordering destruction of illegally imported foods seized by customs inspectors, Russian state TV has shown bulldozers driving over and crushing tons of fruits and vegetables and leaving the mashed garbage rotting in the summer sun.
Russian Agriculture Minister Aleksandr Tkachev has defended the destruction and called for speeding it up.
Russia a year ago banned the import of food and agricultural products from the European Union, in retaliation for the 28-nation alliance's sanctions imposed on Russia for its March 2014 seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The United States, Canada, Australia and Norway are also subject to Moscow's import ban but had much smaller shares of the Russian market than did their European Union allies.
An online petition created last week by Olga Saveleva of Moscow has drawn more than 340,000 signatures backing its demand that the seized food be given to the poor.
Small demonstrations have been staged against the wasteful handling of seized food by activists in St. Petersburg, and on Thursday, the Consumer Rights Protection Society challenged the Aug. 6 decree in court.
A commentator for daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets said the government's destruction of food showed "clear contempt" for public opinion and the indelible imprint left on the psyche of many Russians from the million-plus deaths suffered during the World War II siege of Leningrad.