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Russia keeps up pressure on McDonald's with new inspections

The walls and towers of the Kremlin are reflected in a window of a closed McDonald's restaurant, one of four temporarily closed by the state food safety watchdog, in Moscow, August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

By Vladimir Soldatkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian authorities extended their scrutiny of McDonald's (MCD.N) to several regions on Friday, carrying out inspections at a number of restaurants run by the U.S. fast-food chain, amid a standoff with the West over Ukraine.

The inspections are viewed by many businessmen as retaliation for Western sanctions against Russia because of its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, and they fear the retribution could spread to other symbols of Western capitalism.

A spokeswoman for the country's food safety agency, Rospotrebnadzor, said the inspections were not related to the standoff.

"The checks are not politically motivated," she said.

The agency also said it had no plans to close down the company's business in the Republic of Tatarstan, two days after the agency shut three McDonald's branches in Moscow. Checks in Tatarstan were announced on Thursday.

An agency spokeswoman in Tatarstan's largest city, Kazan, said checks were under way at McDonald's, which has 17 restaurants in the region - one of the highest concentrations in Russia outside Moscow and St Petersburg.

"We are making checks there. There are some irregularities and we are likely to punish them, but we will not close down their restaurants," she said.

The regulators had earlier extended the checks outside of Moscow, including in Central Russia and the Urals.

The agency's branch in the Penza region said on Friday that its unscheduled checks at two McDonald's restaurants in August showed that nine products out of the 31 inspected did not meet regulatory requirements, without specifying what they were.

After laboratory studies, three batches of products weighing a total of 38 kilograms were deemed unfit for consumption, the agency said in a statement on its website. It drew up 10 statements of administrative violations, the statement said.

McDonald's declined an immediate comment.

Local press also reported that it plans to begin inspections in the North-West Leningrad region on Aug. 25. A regional official declined to comment.

McDonald's operates 440 restaurants in Russia and considers the country one of its top seven markets outside the United States and Canada, according to its 2013 annual report. Almost 1 million people a day use its restaurants in Russia.

In Tatarstan, some 1,500 people work for the fast-food chain.

A McDonald's Russia spokeswoman said earlier this week the company was aware of the situation and "was open" to any checks.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Olga Sichkar and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Alexander Winning and John Stonestreet, Larry King)