In a bid to reduce the number of vodka related deaths in Russia, President Putin has suggested re-nationalising the vodka production industry. This is in contrast to his ministers, who until recently, were trying to sell off the state vodka company.
It’s obvious that the existing system doesn’t work. It’s ineffective," he [Putin] said.
"I believe that this problem [poor-quality alcohol] would be solved in the best way possible if one pushed for government decisions that would in effect result in a state monopoly over alcohol."
There are approximately 40,000 deaths per year from alcohol poisoning in Russia, and Putin – famous among Russian leaders for not actually being an alcoholic – attributes most of them to cheap, illegal, and nasty tasting vodka produced by bootleg distillers. Although bootleg vodka is readily available, and does certainly cause deaths because of it’s poor (sometimes toxic) quality, I’m not sure it does so to such a scale. More likely, most of these 40,000 deaths are simply caused by people drinking too much legitimate vodka and poisoning themselves – which, believe it or not, does occasionally happen to the Russian male. Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in Russia, but there are plenty of better ways to combat it than re-nationalising the whole industry to stamp out a few bootleggers.
Most likely, as has been pointed out by many news reports, is that Putin sees control of the vodka industry as a nice little revenue earner for the state – as did both the Tsarist and Communist governments. I guess the tax revenues just aren’t adding up to what they used to now that companies can take advantage of such capitalist concepts as tax loopholes. (Oddly though, Putin doesn’t seem to have kept his ministers in the loop as to what he is planning – they were recently trying to sell the state owned vodka producer Rosspirtprom).
Putin will be walking a public opinion tightrope though, if he wants to take over the vodka industry. Get it right and, yes, it will bring in plenty of cash, and make a few powerful people very happy. Get it wrong, though, and a substantial increase in vodka prices will do damage to his reputation far greater than any terrorist attack could ever do.