Opinion

Why McDonald's departure from Russia may be exactly what Putin wants

Why McDonald's departure from Russia may be exactly what Putin wants
Through an empty Square, Mikhail Gorbachev walked freely with his granddaughter while using an umbrella to avoid the snow. Year: 1997. With St. Basil's Cathedral behind them, they entered what is supposed to be a Pizza Hut at the center of a liberalizing Moscow, organized as part of an American advertising campaign. As Gorbachev sat on the corner of a Pizza Hut, but really in Moscow — and the camera crews rolled — the actors debated the legacy of the then former Soviet leader.

Pizza Hut is among the Western-based companies that have announced they are closing their doors across Russia as the invasion of Ukraine continues. Western leaders inside and outside the government have tightened the screws on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has sparked a two-million-dollar refugee crisis, rising gas prices and a unified Western allied front against Moscow. The symbiotic attempt between government and business to make life more difficult for the Russian leader has amplified effectiveness, but may have unintended effects on cultural diplomacy.

It is one thing to turn off the inflow of foreign capital and imports of Russian oil into the United States. It's another thing to turn off the Starbucks latte machine. Even in the most immoral universe of political economy, symbols matter. Especially when it comes to food.

Now, companies like Boeing and Ford, all major accounting firms, and financial institutions like American Express have withdrawn from Russia, eliminating thousands of jobs and billions in goods and services. PepsiCo is continuing to process milk, cheese in its Russian countries, while McDonald's will continue to pay its 62,000 employees despite closing 850 counters.

The new pressure on Russia is tightening the line between Russia and the West, which may achieve its economic goal of crippling the Russian economy so that Putin decides to withdraw his forces from Ukraine. The distant hope is that Putin will lose control of his power when the oligarchs and his men decide that two decades in near-absolute power have been enough.

But the Cold War ended because of the flaws of the Soviet system but also because of the West's cultural procrastination in Russia. Gorbachev sought to build the system by adding transparency and accountability, making room for those who at least wanted to consider the West. Ultimately, the system could not sustain it and, in part, consumerism invaded the planned economies.

Nga ana e tij, Putin e quan fundin e sistemit sovjetik tragjedinë më të madhe. Kjo është arsyeja pse ai nuk do të vajtojë tërheqjen e kompanive perëndimore nga oborri i tij.

Herë pas here, historia ka treguar se si angazhimi mund të thyejë shtetet e mbrapshta. Ka një arsye pse udhëheqësit e Iranit i frikësohen brezit në rritje që gjithmonë e ka njohur Perëndimin nëpërmjet mediave popullore dhe internetit. Pranvera Arabe ishte një nënprodukt i qytetarëve që kuptuan se sistemi që u ishte imponuar atyre nuk duhej të ishte aq shtypës apo i korruptuar, pjesërisht nëpërmjet mediave sociale. Koreja e Veriut mbijeton vetëm sepse ka arritur një kufi krejtësisht të mbyllur hermetikisht për shumicën e qytetarëve të saj.

Kompanitë perëndimore po shpresojnë qartë se mund të bëjnë pjesën e tyre për t'i dhënë fund luftës mbi civilët në Ukrainë dhe shumë qeveri në Perëndim po i mirëpresin ata si partnerë në luftën kundër mizorisë së Putinit.

Kompanitë përfundimisht mund të kuptojnë se izolimi nuk është rruga më e mirë për t'i dhënë fund sulmeve ruse ndaj Ukrainës. Sistemi sovjetik ishte sklerozë nga dizajni, por shoqëritë gjejnë mënyra për të evoluuar, sepse idetë e fuqishme nuk respektojnë kufijtë apo komitetet qendrore. Diplomacia kulturore i bëri sovjetikët të dyshonin sistemin. Gorbaçovi e kuptoi këtë, duke ndezur një seri reformash që ai mendonte se mund ta mbanin sistemin në ujë. Në fund të fundit, ai nuk mundi të ikte nga Perëndimi dhe përfundoi duke luajtur në atë reklamën e Pizza Hut.

Yes, let's get back to the one-minute commercial. It is an artifact of an era that saw Gorbachev as a symbol of the West's victory over its Cold War threat. The ad was never aired in Russia, but the symbolism was evident in a chain of American pizzas using the former Soviet leader as an emblem of a changing world. Gorbachev had recognized America’s inevitability, allowing McDonald’s to open its first store on Pushkin Square in 1990; opening day served 38,000 customers.

"I felt like I was eating America myself," one man told VOA in 2020 on the store's 30th anniversary.

And, in another symbol of the West's relationship with Russia, that store will now be closed as part of the Western attraction.

TIME analysis