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McDonald's in Crosshairs of Russia-US Proxy War

A logo on display outside a McDonald's food restaurant in Moscow, Russia.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A logo on display outside a McDonald's food restaurant in Moscow, Russia.

If you find yourself craving a McDonald's Royal Cheeseburger, you may be out of luck … at least in Russia.

The Russian federal consumer protection agency -– Rospotrebnadzor -- has filed a lawsuit with a Moscow court that would ban the famous cheeseburger, as well as such classics as the Filet-o-Fish, the Chicken Burger, and shakes of all flavors. The iconic American fast-food chain has already been fined 70,000 rubles (about $2,000) for 'irregularities.' And now Russian officials claim some products are illegal because they display "inappropriate physical-chemical parameters." That's legalese for the nutritional information on packaging and tray-liners, like total calories and fat content.

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In a statement to NBC News, McDonald's in Russia said it hasn't been contacted by the federal agency and is unaware of any lawsuit. It said its ingredients and cooking methods are fully approved by Russian food authorities.

"One of the main priorities for McDonald's in Russia is the quality and safety of the products that we provide to our customers," said Nina Prosolova, a McDonald's representative. Earlier this week, the fast food giant reported that it was seeing a softness in its sales in Russia, helping to lead to another tough quarter for McDonald's.

Update: McDonald's Europe told CNBC in a statement that it had not been contacted by the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), nor had it received any notice of the claim.

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'It's a piece of America!'

Recently, the company –- a 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics sponsor -- has been a lightening rod for political tension between Russia and Ukraine. Three months ago, it closed its restaurants in Crimea after Russia annexed the peninsula and the West responded with targeted sanctions. At the time, McDonald's officials said conditions had become too difficult to operate: ethnic Russian protesters had attacked the chain, and some Russian politicians called for all of its 400 outlets to be shut down.

Since then, the Kremlin has occasionally warned of 'retaliatory' actions against U.S. and Western interests in Russia as Washington and Brussels launched yet more sanctions. And the European Union is meeting next week to introduce –- potentially –- its strongest sanctions yet if Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn't taken steps to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine.

Interestingly the Big Mac itself has not been blacklisted. That's perhaps because it's what Russians are still lovin' the most.

In 1990, when McDonald's opened its first Russian branch in Moscow off Mayakovsky Square –- the world's largest McDonald's outlet at the time –- the line of Soviet customers stretched a mile along Gorki Street. Whole families would buy a dozen Big Macs at a time, and little else. They'd sit and chat, slowly eat one burger. Then smoke and chat some more. Then eat another. The picnic could last hours. When asked by a reporter why they ate their fast-food so slowly, one replied, smiling, "It's a piece of America!"

But it could be the next victim of a proxy war that now even has burgers in its cross hairs.

-- By Jim Maceda of NBC News


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