The ban, announced by a somber Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at a televised Cabinet meeting, covers all imports of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, milk and milk products from the U.S., the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway. It will last for one year.
"Until the last moment, we hoped that our foreign colleagues would understand that sanctions lead to a deadlock and no one needs them," Medvedev said. "But they didn't, and the situation now requires us to take retaliatory measures."
That retaliation, however, could hurt Russia as much as the West. Russia depends heavily on imported foodstuffs, most of it from Europe, particularly in Moscow and other large, prosperous cities. In 2013, the EU exported 11.8 billion euros ($15.8 billion) in agricultural goods to Russia, while the U.S. sent $1.3 billion in food and agricultural goods.
Chris Weafer, an analyst at Macro Advisory in Moscow, said the ban will likely speed up inflation and further cloud an already grim economic outlook. "Along with higher interest rates, higher food costs will mean that households have less money to spend and that will depress the economy," he said.
The Netherlands, one of the world's largest agricultural exporters, sends 1.5 billion euros' worth of agricultural products to Russia annually and stands among the countries with the most to lose.
Albert Jan Maat, chairman of the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture, warned that the Russian ban will cause prices to drop across Europe because of oversupply, and called on the Dutch government and the EU to help farmers. Exports to Russia account for about a tenth of EU agricultural exports.
"We're thinking of either removing products from the market or temporarily storing them," he said.
Xavier Beulin, president of the French farm union FNSEA, voiced similar concerns. "These are market losses, but there's also a chance that it will flood the European markets with summer crops that are no longer going to Russia and that could lower prices," he told the LCI television network.
A number of agricultural products have seen their prices fall following the Russian ban. Among major products, wheat for September delivery fell 1.4 percent, while corn fell 1.1 percent.
EU Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent voiced regret about the ban. He said the Commission still has to assess the potential impact, and reserves "the right to take action as appropriate."
Medvedev argued that the ban would give Russian farmers, who have struggled to compete with Western products, a good chance to increase their market share. But experts said local producers will find it hard to fill the gap left by the ban, as the nation's agricultural sector suffers from inefficiency and a shortage of funds.
Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fyodorov said the sector would need additional subsidies equivalent to $3.8 billion in the next few years to pump up production. The government may find it hard to increase funding as it tries to shore up the currency and support banks and companies affected by Western sanctions, which included an EU ban on long-term borrowing for key Russian state banks.
While the government claimed it will move quickly to replace Western imports with food from Latin America, Turkey and ex-Soviet neighbors, analysts predicted shortages and price hikes. The damage to consumers will be particularly great in big cities like Moscow, where imported food fills an estimated 60-70 percent of the market.
Market watchers said consumers in the expensive food segment will suffer the most, losing access to goods like French cheeses and Parma ham, but others will also eventually feel the brunt as food variety will shrink and inflationary pressures increase. With retail chains stocked up for months ahead, the ban will take time to hurt, however.
The measure led to sardonic comments across Russian online media and liberal blogs, bringing reminiscences of empty store shelves during the Soviet times, but there was no immediate indication of consumers trying to stock up.