McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Russia in 1990, after a decade of negotiations. In 2022, in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and after two months of temporarily closing its restaurants, McDonald’s announced the closure of its chain of 850 restaurants employing over sixty-thousand people, saying that remaining in Russia would not be ‘consistent with McDonald’s values’ given the invasion of Ukraine.*
I recall the first McDonald’s in my hometown in St Joseph, Missouri, when I was a kid. It was a big deal getting such an inexpensive hamburger. But I also recall the chain opening in Russia, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It helped symbolise the end of the Cold War and the opening of Russia to the West. Just as dramatically – perhaps more so – the closing of the chain in Russia speaks volumes about the impact of Putin’s horrible mistake in launching an unprovoked and brutal invasion of an independent and sovereign nation that is 70 times smaller than Russia.
McDonald’s did the right thing, and many other businesses are likely to follow. I was even inspired to go to a McDonald’s for the first time in years and found that I could hardly figure out how to order given the new kiosks for individuals to place their own order. Luckily, I could still order in person and get my usual.
Patriotism is likely to be leading many Russians to trust the Kremlin’s narrative about its special operation in Ukraine. But over time, one message after another, like the message sent by McDonald’s, NATO, and by Finland and Sweden deciding to join NATO, will cause more Russians to seriously question the authenticity, wisdom, and virtue of the Kremlin’s narrative and where it is leading their nation. Good for the chief executive, who said: ‘The Golden Arches will shine no more in Russia.’ *
*See: Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, Mark Wembridge, and Max Seddon (2022), ‘McDonald’s to sell Russia unit amid exodus sparked by war’, Financial Times, 17 May, p. 9.