Employees serve clients in a McDonald's restaurant on Pushkin square in Moscow on February 1, 2010. The restaurant was the first in Russia and opened on January 31, 1990. It has served more then 130 million customers since its opening. McDonald's says it has 245 restaurants in Russia and served more then 2 billion customers in 20 years. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian authorities ordered the temporary closure of four McDonald's restaurants in Moscow on Wednesday, citing "sanitary violations," but the move was seen by Western observers as a response to sanctions imposed on the country over the crisis in Ukraine.

BBC reported that the watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, claimed the restaurants had breached "numerous" sanitary laws while McDonald's Corporation (NYSE:MCD) said it was looking at the complaints, adding its "top priority is to provide safe and quality products."

However, the Wall Street Journal quoted Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, as saying that food inspectors "have been instruments of Russian foreign policy for years." He cited earlier bans on Moldovan wine and U.S. chicken.

The Guardian quoted Mikhail Goncharov, owner of the Russian fast-food chain Teremok, who described the complaints as politicized and a "powerful blow to relations" between the U.S. and Russia.

"McDonald's is a leader in the field, especially when it comes to standards. For instance, when we opened our company, we copied them in a lot of ways. For us, they were an example of how to work. And not just for us."

Business Insider said that it had spoken to an unnamed source at the Russian regulator who, when asked if the closures were a response to Western-imposed sanctions, declined to comment and referred the reporter to a statement about sanitary violations.

McDonald's opened its first Russian outlet in Moscow's Pushkin Square in 1990, and it was seen as a sign of thawing relations between the West and Gorbachev's administration. It later went on to be the chain's most visited branch in the world.

McDonald's has approximately 35,000 outlets in 119 countries worldwide.