Russia will not poison its own people by lifting the ban it imposed on vegetable imports from the European Union, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Friday, in response to protests by the EU against the move.
The European Commission said the measure was "disproportionate" and the EU's envoy in Moscow, Fernando Valenzuela, said the ban was unjustified and contradicted the rules of World Trade Organization.
"The representatives of the European Commission are saying that this decision contradicts the WTO spirit," Putin said in a rail workers' conference in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.
"Frankly, I don’t know what spirit it contradicts but cucumbers which kill people - well, they really smell bad."
"We will not poison our people," Putin said. "I will personally see whether [the ban] was justified while we are waiting for more information from our European partners."
Russia suspended imports of EU-produced vegetables on Thursday in a bid to prevent an E. coli outbreak from spreading into the country.
At least 18 people have died as the result of the outbreak, centered on Germany.
Russia also accused Brussels of failing to provide sufficient information about the source of the infection.
EU envoy Valenzuela said the ban went against WTO rules, suggesting it could undermine Moscow's bid to join the world trade body.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Friday, Valenzuela said Russia "should be already voluntarily implementing" WTO rules in full.
"There is no point... in waiting until the very last day to do that," he said.
Valenzuela complained that the ban was affecting an important part of Russia-EU trade, saying that Russia's vegetable imports from the EU amount to 600 million euros ($869 million).
Russia, the last major economy still outside the WTO bloc, is expected to join the organization next year.
MOSCOW, June 3 (RIA Novosti)