Last month, I spent about a week having the same conversation with different people over a series of good meals in different Moscow restaurants. We talked about the reversal of history, the country’s exceedingly bleak prospects and emigration options. Invariably at some point in the conversation my interlocutors would look around and say something like, “But then there is this” — meaning a place that served good food from an inventive menu on an outdoor terrace.
My friends are right: The existence of these Moscow restaurants is inconceivable in the medieval warrior state into which Russia is turning itself. Putin knows this, too, and his food ban communicates a simple message to the differently minded: You no longer get to sit around in your cafes. The day after Putin announced the food ban, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dealt a second, likely fatal blow to Russian cafe culture by announcing what amounts to a ban on WiFi access in public places.
In between lamenting the disappearance of Italian mozzarella, Australian rib-eye, Finnish yogurt and even cheap American drumsticks, Russian bloggers have also suggested in the past few days that by introducing what amounts to additional sanctions against his country, Putin may have weakened his government.