McDonald’s has been a fixture in Moscow for 32 years. The news of the mega-burger chain closing its doors has caused massively long lines of people waiting for their last “Happy Meal.” The plan to shut down 850 McDonald’s restaurants in Russia is supposed to just be temporary, but many do not believe the repercussions of the war with Ukraine will be healed shortly.
Some in Russia are not as concerned with not having Big Macs, as they are concerned with the implications of Russia going back in time.
Prof. Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer for Russia on the National Intelligence Council, said, “There’s just this sickening feeling that they’re going to go back, not to the 1990s, but to the 1970s when you didn’t have access to these things, and when you were living isolated from the rest of the world.”
When McDonald’s first opened in Russia, they were still living under the Soviet Union and they had no idea what fast food was. People’s first experience with the “golden arches” was linked to their experience of ending the cold war.
The first round that Russia experienced with capitalism was short-lived. The liberal government and western influence produced the wealth of the oligarchs, poverty, and rampant lawlessness. Putin took control of the government in 2000 and he was given the task of restoring order. He made the shift to a strong market economy with a strong authoritative government.
Fiona Hill was an exchange student in Russia in the late 1980s and went on to become an intelligence analyst on Russia and then senior director for Europe and Russia in the White House. She said, “Putin was saying: ‘I’ll bring you bread and circuses, I’ll bring you Big Macs, Ikea, reality TV like everybody else has, and you leave the politics and the national security to me and everything will be great.’”
Over the last decades, Putin has grown to see NATO as a threat to his future goals. The Russian president’s suspicions were raised with the bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, the United States withdrawing from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004.
Putin fed a growing sentiment that was rooted in wanting what the Soviet Union once had. These feelings were heated up in 2011 when NATO-led an intervention in Libya. All this led to more and more isolation in the way Putin governed.
Today, the economy and the world’s reaction to the pandemic have caused Putin to react and those close to him believe that he has seen a way to counter his past humiliations. But the ordeal he has faced in Ukraine has caused him to lash out with more violence than he thought would be necessary.
All of this history and humiliation has made the closing of Mcdonald’s bigger than it might have been.
One of Putin’s citizens expressed great concern over the thought of losing his access to cheeseburgers and fries. Luka Safronov chained himself to one of Moscow’s Golden Arches in protest of closing the 850 stores. He said that the closing was an act of “hostility” towards him and his fellow citizens. Police had to drag him away from the McDonalds while the company CEO, Chris Kempckinski, talked with employees about why the store’s closing was the right thing to do.
McDonald’s said that they will continue to assess the situation and make determinations about future plans. They said that it is impossible right now to know when they will be able to reopen the restaurants in Russia. They will be watching supply chain issues as well as humanitarian issues as they monitor the situation.