Sorry, Crimea. It looks like you might not be getting a Burger King after all.
Only a week after McDonald’s said it would close its three locations in the Crimean Peninsula, Burger King Russia said it would offer Crimea’s citizens another chance to eat American-style fast-food hamburgers on Thursday. Later that day, however, Burger King Worldwide Inc (NYSE:BKW) said the earlier reports were incorrect, making it plain that in Crimea, even something as simple as getting a fast-food hamburger can be difficult and fraught with controversy after Russia annexed the peninsula nation in March.
“We plan to enter the Crimean market, but I cannot say when exactly it will happen or how many outlets the company will have,” Burger King Russia CEO Dmitry Medoviy told Russian news agency ITAR-TASS on Thursday. Outlets like Al Jazeera and RT jumped on the story, reporting that Burger King might move into Crimea as a direct challenge to McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) decision to depart the peninsula.
Less than 24 hours after the story began making the rounds, however, representatives from Burger King Worldwide announced that no, the fast food chain will not be moving into Crimea after all.
NPR, which also reported the original story, received an email from Burger King spokesperson Bryson Thornton saying that "neither Burger King Worldwide, nor any of its franchisees, have plans to open Burger King restaurants in Crimea."
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Thornton said that Medoviy’s announcement was “a non-committal, off-the-cuff statement made by our Russian franchisee that was reported as if it were a plan.”
Despite Thornton’s clarification that Medoviy was speaking off-the-cuff, the Burger King Russia CEO certainly sounded confident in his initial announcement. After all, he didn’t say the company was considering moving into Crimea, but that it had a plan to do so, albeit one without all the details finalized. Could Burger King's corporate leadership have shut down the plan for fear of political backlash?
Last week, McDonald’s Ukraine said it would close all three of its locations in Crimea due to “operational reasons beyond our control.” It refused to clarify its intentions beyond that, although the fast-food chain did offer to relocate Crimean employees to cities in Ukraine. Because of McDonald’s refusal to clarify its reasons for its pullout, many speculated that it was done to protest Russia's annexation of Crimea, which included Russian forces seizing strategic locations in the region.
Burger King Russia currently operates approximately 200 restaurants throughout Russia, making it the second largest fast-food chain in the nation, second only to McDonald’s. A move into Crimea could be seen as a bold strike at McDonald’s inside Russia, but it could play out badly on the world stage as the international community has not looked kindly upon Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the U.S. applied sanctions to protest Russia's moves.
No matter the reason, though, there's still nowhere for Crimeans to buy an American-style fast food hamburger.