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Russia’s burning Dutch flowers in sanctions war

After bulldozing a mountain of imported cheese from the West, Russian authorities have now turned to burning flowers from the Netherlands.

Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia's animal and plant health regulator, has decided this week to examine all imports of Dutch flowers in a laboratory before accepting them. It says it had to remove and incinerate a shipment of Dutch chrysanthemums which were to be sold in Vladivostok.

The watchdog claims it is blocking imports of Dutch flowers due to safety concerns over the spread of insect infestations. On July 27, it posted on its website stating that 183 shipments of flowers from the Netherlands were infested with a range of insects, such as Western thrips and the leafminer (both pests are native to the U.S.).

Tulip bulbs in crates ready to be exported
Cultura | Getty Images
Tulip bulbs in crates ready to be exported

Last week, Russia seized and destroyed tons of foods due to an import ban on Western foods. The ban was a reaction to sanctions imposed on Russia by the international community after it annexed Ukraine in March 2014. Earlier this week, Russia authorities hinted that new countries may be added to its list of banned food import ban.

According to Reuters, the watchdog's chief sanitary inspector, Yekaterina Slakova, appeared on Russian television earlier this week to show workers setting fire to boxes of roses while stating: "These are freshly cut flowers from the Netherlands infected with western Californian flower thrips."

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Russia has not directly imported Dutch flowers since 2007, as the Netherlands does not have fields free from flower thrips and thus stopped issuing certificates for cut flowers. Instead, shipments are sent through nearby EU countries (such as Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania) which check and certify the flowers.

However, Rosselkhoznadzor has claimed that Latvia and Lithuania will consult with Russia over the future of certifying Dutch flower imports; Latvia may remove Dutch flowers from shipments heading to Russia.

"We saw the pictures of Russian authorities burning flowers. According to their information these were Ecuadorian, Spanish, Italian and a small amount of Dutch flowers," Robert Roodenburg, director of the Dutch Association of Wholesale Floricultural Products, told CNBC via email.

"We would very much like to discuss the matter with the Russian authorities to assess how we could comply with the Russian demands."

- By Luke Graham, special to CNBC. Follow him on Twitter @LukeWGraham