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Russia shuttering McDonald's, citing "sanitation reasons"

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Moscow, Russian (CNN) - Russian officials have shut four McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow, including the first to open in the city nearly 25 years ago, at the end of the Cold War.

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The Golden Arches have been dimmed and the doors are firmly closed. Russia’s flagship McDonald’s in the center of Moscow in Pushkin Square has become the latest target in an apparent crackdown on the American fast food chain. A number of McDonald’s across Russia have been closed, with officials citing “sanitation reasons.”

The suspicion, though, is that all of this is political; a Kremlin ploy in its ongoing dispute over Ukraine. Moscow has already banned some food imports from western countries. The closing of McDonald’s in the country may be just another salvo.

McDonald’s is a symbol of Western Civilization and consumerism. The store in Pushkin Square was once one of the biggest McDonald’s in the world. When it opened its doors in 1990, it became the first fast food restaurant in what was then the Soviet Union. Thousands lined up for hours at a time to get a taste of its burgers, fries and milkshakes. It was more than just a restaurant for many Muscovites; it was a symbol of freedom.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s said that the company hopes the closures in Russia are temporary. The company has a big Russian workforce and network of suppliers. It also has a total of 440 restaurants across Russia, including over 100 in Moscow alone. If the closures become more widespread, it could hurt not just the company, but the many Russians who depend on it. 

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