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Burger King moves into Crimea after McDonald’s pulls out

McDonald’s last week announced its departure from the peninsula, which has voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia

Burger King has announced it will open restaurants in Crimea, less than a week after rival fast-food chain McDonald’s decided to shutter its three locations there after the Black Sea peninsula voted in a Moscow-backed referendum to leave Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation.

“We plan to enter the Crimean market, but I cannot say when exactly it will happen or how many outlets the company will have,” ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Dmitri Medovy, the CEO of Burger King Russia, as saying this week.

Burger King Russia, which operates about 200 restaurants, apparently decided to open outlets in Crimea in the wake of the McDonald’s announcement on April 3 that it would temporarily suspend operations on the peninsula because of “manufacturing reasons independent of McDonald’s.”

The McDonald’s decision was spurred by “logistical difficulties” tied to U.S. sanctions against Russia, which were imposed after Moscow occupied Crimea and oversaw the referendum splitting it from Ukraine. Western leaders have widely decried the occupation and Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law.

“Like many other multinational companies, McDonald’s is currently evaluating potential business and regulatory implications which may result from the evolving situation in Crimea,” the company said in a statement to Reuters news agency. “Due to the suspension of necessary financial and banking services, we have no option but to close our three restaurants in Crimea.”

The decision by the world's largest hamburger chain was "strictly a business decision which has nothing to do with politics," according to a company statement last Friday. But it nonetheless drew criticism from nationalist leaders in Russia.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Russian nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party, or LDPR, said in televised comments that he would welcome the closure of McDonald's restaurants throughout Russia.

McDonald’s has been in Russia since 1990 and sits comfortably atop the burgeoning fast-food market there, but Burger King has quickly surged to second place in terms of the number of restaurants and burgers served since it arrived in Russia four years ago.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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