Despite ongoing sanctions imposed by Moscow on fruit and vegetables from European Union countries in response to EU measures banning the sale of produce from Russia, large quantities of fruit such as nectarines and peaches from the bloc’s warmer member-states, including Greece, Italy and Spain, are reaching Moscow shelves in a steady supply, with Belarus-based middlemen seen as the prime suspects in the illicit trade.
Belarusian traders are suspected of slipping through the sanctions net and passing off Mediterranean fruit exports as their own – likely with the assistance of Russian officials.
Initial reports of a doubling of Belarus exports of nectarines and peaches to Russia failed to raise eyebrows, even though the landlocked Eastern European country is not a major producer of either fruit.
It later became apparent that produce hailing from Italy and Spain was reaching the Russian market.
Recent reports have indicated that traders with links to the Russian market are sweeping through northern Greece, a key crop-growing region, and buying large quantities of fruit including nectarines and peaches.
A recent survey conducted by Kathimerini confirmed that Greek produce is widely available at retail outlets in the Russian capital.
Russia largely depends on imports for its fruit and vegetable supply.
Last year, the authenticity of trade documents certifying the origin of products exported by Belarus had been questioned by Russian officials.
Despite the EU-Russia sanctions, Greek traders are well aware of the fact that it is still possible to export to the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), a five-member common market with a combined GDP of more than 3 trillion dollars comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.
Getting cargo into any of Russia’s fellow EEC members enables unobstructed entry into the Russian market.
Meanwhile, Greek olive oil exports to Russia – the product category is not included in the sanctions – have almost doubled, rising by 91 percent to 3.1 million dollars’ worth of trade in the first half of 2016, compared to 1.6 million dollars during the same period a year earlier.