New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has decided to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine by ordering the removal of Russian-branded liquor from state-run liquor stores. Governors of Ohio, Utah, and Pennsylvania have also ordered Russian liquors off the shelves. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott asked Texas restaurants and shops to stop selling Russian goods.
It's a weirdly authoritarian response, especially against the retro-socialist background of having state-run liquor stores in the first place. It also isn't going to accomplish what these governors think, unless their only goal is to look like they're doing something, because the economic harms will fall on people completely outside Russia's borders.
Let's start with the obvious: The booze you're removing is already here. To the extent that the profits go back to Mother Russia, that's already happened. Russia loses zero rubles when you take the vodka you already paid for and hide it in the stockroom for a few months.
But there's a bigger issue: "Russian" vodka often isn't actually from Russia at all.
We went through all of this back in 2013, when Russia's parliament passed an anti-gay law and LGBT activists responded with a boycott of what they thought was Russian vodka. There was a logo and everything. The primary target was Stolichnaya Vodka, one of the more popular brands.
Yet the Stoli that gets imported to the United States is not Russian at all. It's made in Latvia, and the company that manufactures it is based in Luxembourg. Stoli, furthermore, had developed strong ties to the LGBT community and even financially backed community projects. The law was awful, but this attempt to punish Russia for passing it did not actually hurt Russia at all—and Russia certainly hasn't gotten any friendlier to LGBT people. But it did get some organizers a lot of media attention.
Meanwhile, imports from Russia are fairly minimal in the big scheme of things. The most recent data from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, from 2019, lists $22.3 billion in Russian imports. That may sound like a lot, but Russia's Gross Domestic Product for 2019 was $1.6 trillion. Our imports are less than 1.5 percent of that.
And of those imports, food and liquor barely factor at all. Total agricultural and food imports from Russia that year totaled just $69 million. The top import was fuel: We imported $13 billion in mineral fuels like natural gas from Russia in 2019.
Reuters reports that only 1.2 percent of U.S. vodka imports came from Russia in the first half of 2021. Much more comes from France. Smirnoff is produced right here in the United States.
In a change from their coverage of the LGBT vodka boycott, lots of media outlets are pointing out this time that boycotting vodka does not impact Russia's economy in any way. It may make people who are otherwise helpless over foreign policy (like state governors) feel like they're doing something. But the economic impacts of a vodka boycott—if there are any—are going to be felt by people who aren't connected to Putin at all, and in many cases aren't even Russian.
So don't pour your vodka down the drain. You're not actually helping Ukraine by wasting your booze. You can still buy Ukrainian liquor, too!