Just as Georgia and other food exporters to Russia were about to sigh with relief, the Kremlin’s food strongman, Gennadiy Onishchenko, claimed that reports of his retirement had been greatly exaggerated.
It was Russia’s deputy prime minister, Olga Golodets, who said that the formidable chief sanitary inspector was on his way out now that his term has expired. The news sent reporters, including this blogger, writing epitaphs to the man (termed a "shadow minister of foreign affairs" by one columnist) who had ushered in an era of post-Soviet food-fights that largely told the history of Russia's relations with its ex-Soviet neighbors for the past decade.
But Moscow’s dietary ideologue insists it is too early to bid him good-bye. Describing Golodets as “a strange character,” the 63-year-old Onishchenko said that it is not up to her to fire him. Amid the snafu, Russian reporters sought clarification from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s spokesperson, Natalya Timakova. She equivocated, saying that Onishchenko’s current term has indeed expired, but no decision has been made yet about his resignation.
Russian law sets 60 years as the age limit for public officials , but the state can renew contracts with older officials on an annual basis.
Vedomosti reports that Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, allegedly also not a big Onishchenko fan, will take the final decision on Russia's food tsar "in several days," after Medvedev gets back from a trip to China.
Onishchenko, though, has long had a reputation of someone who would bow to nobody but Russian President Vladimir Putin. But, so far, not a peep out of the Kremlin.