A Novel Way to Combat Russia's Love of Cheap Booze


Because the average Russian drinks like an unemployed Foster Brooks, the Kremlin has decided to create a black market in booze from neighboring countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, by levying an enormous tax on beer and vodka. Reuters has details on this ingenious, fool-proof plan:

The price of the cheapest half-liter vodka bottle will nearly double to a new minimum of 89 roubles ($2.95), according to the alcohol regulator's website www.fsrar.ru…Russia has moved to triple the excise duty on beer and is considering drastic limits on where and when beer can be sold, such as banning the sale on street side kiosks. There are also plans to raise duties for vodka, but these are separate measures that do not take effect yet….

The average monthly salary of 18,702 roubles ($651) would have bought 368 bottles of the cheapest vodka available before the New Year in an online supermarket, but 210 bottles now.

In 1985, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared a war on the traditional evil of alcohol abuse, ordering dramatic cuts in the production of wines and spirits and introducing strict controls on public consumption of alcohol.

The campaign triggered a surge in illegal production of low-quality home-brewed booze and the curbs dealt a blow to the popularity of Gorbachev, the author of the liberal Soviet reform known as Perestroika.

Just in case they haven't yet figured out that consuming three bottles of bootleg vodka per day might have a deleterious effect on your health, the government will also require health warning labels in the new year and is toying with the idea of a state monopoly on the production of alcohol.

For obvious reasons, this isn't a campaign that would have had much credibility under the Yeltsin government:

NEXT: Getting Better All the Time, Price Division

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  1. Creating a black market in a misguided attempt to reduce alcohol abuse — those Russians have some strange ideas! I’m glad I don’t live in a country that dumb.

    1. They might be, and I am just guessing here, trying to seize control of people and increase revenues. That last part they are doing all the wrong way.

  2. It is written that when the old pagan Russians were interviewing, so to speak, for a new religion, the missionaries from Islam ruled themselves out in the first five minutes with the Koranic injunction against booze.

    The Russian prince, Oleg, is supposed to have said, “it is our only joy…”

    1. The prince’s name was actually Vladimir the Great aka Vladimir the Fair Sun aka St. Vladimir, and this story might be apocryphal. It should also be noted that in his time (10th century) vodka was unheard of in what is now Russia and the people there drank weaker drinks, like beer and mead. Spirits and the distillation process were first imported by traders from Western Europe around 14th century. This has actually been used by the Russian ultra-nationalists (most of whom are teetotal, just like Putin and Medvedev) to argue that Russia’s drinking problem is the result of a Western and/or Jewish conspiracy to weaken Russia.

  3. I guess the first time they rationed vodka they didn’t learn.

  4. Alright! Russin bride ads! Thanks Moynihan!

    1. Carl: Oh, man. I cannot wait. I got the oils, the candles, the works! When does that babe get here?

      Master Shake: Carl, don’t refer to her as a “babe”, please. She is a Chechnyan prostitute, and you will address her as such.

      Carl: Look, just don’t cash that check immediately. I wanna make sure that both of us marryin’ her is gonna be, you know, legal.

      Master Shake: Of course it is! What are you kidding me? Santa Claus ain’t legal and he’s around.

      Carl: Well, I guess that makes sense, you know.

      1. Frylock: So do you Tatania …uh

        Carl: Just say “Smith”. It don’t matter.

        Frylock: …Tatania Smith, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?

    2. My browser is broken, because all I get are the fat chick adds. Sigh.

  5. “it is our only joy…” this quote might fit this story.


  6. Well, this might be the only way to turn Russians into raving libertarians. So I’m for it.

    What the fuck is the Kremin thinking anyway? Let’s fuck with our population’s favorite form of entertainment. They’ll LOVE US.

    1. Well it’s not like they have to worry about being re-elected.

      1. Well, technically speaking there actually are elections in Russia. I can’t say they aren’t rigged, but …

        …the problem is merely that Putin is, in fact, very popular, possibly (likely) because of his strong hand, not in spite of it.

        He got reelected by a large majority, and his sucessor was also elected (because the Russian electorate chose to obey Putin’s recommendation). Russian liberals unfortunately are a small discredited minority, and anything resembling libertarians even tinier.

        So the problem isn’t that the government is oppressing the Russian people. It’s that the Russian people are fond of authoritarian rule. For now.

        1. How the hell can anyone be in favor of authoritarianism? You’re probably right that the Russian people (mostly) are. But I just don’t get it. I even understand the motivation for modern American “liberalism,” but this just baffles me.

          1. From what I have read, with all attendant concerns about stereotyping an entire nation of people, Russians don’t want to be “free” so much as they want to be “great”. They want Russia to be a great power of which they can be proud.

            What can you say – different people want different things out of their government. Some people want the state to enforce the holy laws of God, some people want the state to make everybody rich, some people want the state to kick some ass.

    2. I think most of the raging libertarian Russians are running some sort of black market in Russian making a fortune or moved somewhere else.

      Living in an oppressive environment provides a lot of opportunities. Ask your favorite pot dealer.

      1. Well, obviously the next deal is cut-rate, black market vodka.

  7. In 1987, two Russians, Vladimir and Dmitri, were waiting in a line for vodka that stretched all the way around a Moscow city block. After three hours, the line still hadn’t moved.

    “To hell with this,” Vladimir exclaimed to Dmitri, “I’m getting my gun and going to the Kremlin to shoot that motherfucker Gorbachev!” And with that he left his place in line.

    After about an hour, Vladimir returned, cutting back into the line behind Dmitri. “Did you shoot Gorbachev?” he inquired.

    Vladimir shook his head dejectedly. “No — that line’s even longer than this one!”

    1. 2014: Two Americans waiting in line for healthcare…

      Oh wait, if I take this updated joke to its logical end, I might be visited by humorless men with badges.


      1. Were you just on the verge of saying something about healthcare? Don’t stop. What was it? Do not worry. You are safe here. No harm will become your family.

        1. Racist? Me?

          No way. It is well known that I hate everyone equally.

    2. A babushka was waiting in line for bread, and the storekeeper came out and announced that they were all out. She had finally had enough, and started shouting “I’m tired of this! I’m sick of waiting in line for hours, only to be told that there’s no bread!”

      Two militia men seized her and marched her a short distance away. They let her go, and one says: “You’re very lucky that comrade Gorbachev’s new policy is to be lenient with reactionary hooligans like you! Now, shut up and go home!”

      The old lady turned white as a sheet, and fell to her knees in shock. The militia man yelled at her: “What are you crying for? We told you to go home!”

      She answered “It’s worse than I could have imagined! You’re out of bullets!


      1. A friend had toilet paper with printing that made it look like money.
        With the coming hyper-inflation, Obama-money will give Charmin a run for the money.

        It’s good to know there will be one thing we won’t have to stand in line for, unless as a cost saving measure, the FED mandates a no-cash, debit/credit card only economy.

  8. You just put your kid in line. That way you can get double your ration.

  9. In Russia, vodka.

    1. swallows you!

  10. We’re reenacting their Afghan blunder; it’s only fair that they reciprocate and try out one of our own biggest blunders: prohibition.

  11. Warning labels! Why did WE think of that?! Such a simple solution to get people to stop doing things that might be harmful to them! I predict a dry Russia within weeks. I bet no one knew drinking that much alcohol could be bad for you.

  12. Slightly off topic: Two Dem senators (Dodd-CT and Dorgan-ND) and one governor (Ritter-CO) are retiring this year. If they have a similar wave of retirements to what the Republicans had in ’08, the GOP taking back the Senate might not be out of the question after all.

    1. Peter Schiff is running in the CT race!

      Also, this is how we know Putin is truly evil.

    2. Dodd is retiring? Finally.

      1. Will he be in TV less or more now?

        1. on TV

          Preview, you are my friend.

      2. I wouldn’t call it retiring, so much as promoting himself from a corrupt elected official to a lobbyist. He’s going to make shitloads more money now, by convincing his former colleagues to vote to waste our money on his clients like he used to.


    3. Hell, if I had a nice Irish cottage for practically free, and a sweetheart pension plan, I might retire early too.

  13. (…) the Kremlin has decided to create a black market in booze from neighboring countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, by levying an enormous tax on beer and vodka.


    The price of the cheapest half-liter vodka bottle will nearly double to a new minimum of 89 roubles ($2.95) (…)

    BS! (you may drink now 🙂

    as of yesterday, the cheapest 0.5 l vodka bottle in Latvia was Ls 2.39 (~ US$ 4.90). “cheap” vodka is generally around Ls 3.00 per 0.5 l(~ US$ 6.10). on Jan 1, excise tax was (slightly) raised here, too, and prices haven’t stabilised yet.

    prices in Estonia and Lithuania are closer to Latvian than Russian level. there is some black market in booze brought from Russia in all three countries though.

  14. I thought Yeltsin’s strategy to combat the evils of alcohol abuse was to create a shortage by drinking most of it himself.

    1. Gotta hand it to him, he sure gave it his best efforts.


  15. If you get a chance, be sure to read Viktor Belenko’s book, MiG Pilot. It’s full of fascinating anecdotes about the severe dysfunctional nature of the soviet system.

    One that I remember in particular was the problem the Soviet air force had keeping their jet fuel from being plundered by the troops, since it was far higher quality grain alcohol than anything they could buy elsewhere.


    1. Read it long ago. But as I recall, it was actually the canopy deicing fluid that was tapped. It was far from perfect, however, considering the olive and vermouth shortages.

      1. Upon further review, this from the intertube vaults: Conditions at the air base were terrible. Denied access to beer or wine, the most readily available intoxicant for everyone on the base was the pure alcohol coolant used by the planes — a fully-loaded Foxbat needed half a ton of the stuff, so there always seemed to be enough available to get drunk on.

        1. pure alcohol coolant

          Isn’t that shit highly poisonous? Was life in the Soviet Union that bad or are these stories hyperbole? I understand the need to get drunk as much as anyone but really.

          1. Isn’t that shit highly poisonous?

            Nope. They were using ethanol, not methanol as we would typically use for anti-freeze.

  16. While Putin has maintained his popularity, there have been some cracks appearing recently. And this move could change the high regard in which he’s held.

  17. Finally some good news for the Moldovian economy!

  18. No idea of this is true or not since I’ve never been to Russia but….back in college one of my Russian professors told me that the reason Russians drink a lot of vodka is because the bottles are sealed with a bit of foil instead of a screw top or a cork. As a result, once you open it you either have to drink the whole thing or let it go bad. He was convinced that corks could save many a Russian liver.

    1. That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

  19. Say what you will, but he was a beautiful dancer.

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