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Russia is conducting a massive McDonald's purge

A woman sits outside the Pushkin Square McDonald's after closure.
A woman sits outside the Pushkin Square McDonald's after closure.
(Alexander Nemonov/AFP/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

The Ukraine crisis may have settled into a phony truce, but the still-simmering conflict between Russia and the West has opened along a new front: McDonald's restaurants.

The Russian government appears to be waging a stealth campaign against the world's most famous fast food franchise, closing branches en masse, in what appears to be retaliation against the United States over its support of Ukraine's government in the ongoing conflict there.

The Russian site Yopolis sifted through news reports to find each example of a Russian McDonald's shuttering. Each dot represents a McDonald's with a closure or potential closure: the yellow dots show McDonald's closed for upgrades or renovations; legal violations have been reported at orange dot McDonald's; and at least one McDonald's has been shut down at the red dots. The number over the dot indicates the number of branches affected:

Russian McDonald's closures


That's a lot of McDonald's. Now, surely at least some of these must be totally unrelated to politics — the branches shuttered for maintenance, for instance. But there's an awful lot of orange and red on that map.

The most famous such shuttered McDonald's is in Pushkin Square in Moscow. It was the first McDonald's to open in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. According to the New York Times, it was the world's busiest McDonald's for many years. It was also one of the first to be shut down in the current spate of McDonald's closings.

Ostensibly, these McDonald's are being closed for health reasons. But analysts are skeptical.

"Russia has a tendency to ban foreign products, particularly food, for political reasons," National Journal's Marina Koren writes. The closures are designed, she says, "to send a message to the US and the Russians they may be trying to reach: The West is not welcome here." Starting with the Pushkin Square Mickey D's made that point, especially to Russians who remember the location's symbolic importance as a mark of the Cold War's end and of America's victory.

In purely economic terms, the war on McDonald's is, like so much of Russia's recent lashing out at the West, mostly self-defeating. There are give-or-take 437 McDonald's in Russia and they purchase about 85 percent of their supplies from Russian companies. So the anti-McDonald's campaign is, in a way, a microcosm of Putin's entire approach to the Ukraine crisis: damn the economic costs, full speed ahead on aggressive nationalist symbolic gestures.

WATCH: Why Russia is invading Ukraine, in two minutes:

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