Thursday, August 23, 2018

Putin’s Latest Hybrid Attack -- on Vodka -- Will Have Disastrous Consequences for Russia, Ilchenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 22 – Over the past century, Russian government attacks on vodka and vodka consumption have backfired on the regime, undermining its legitimacy in the eyes of the population and even setting the stage for disintegration and revolutionary change, Sergey Ilchenko says.

            Indeed, one can say, the Ukrainian commentator continues, Moscow can do what it likes with its people except in one area: it cannot try to take vodka away from the population or even reduce the alcohol content of the drink. “As long as there is vodka, Russia will exist. If there isn’t any of it, there won’t be a Russia” (

            Ilchenko makes this apparently hyperbolic comment in reaction to the Putin regime’s decision to cut the alcohol content of the basic kind of vodka from 40 to 37 percent, a small reduction by one that points to more changes ahead and ones that history suggests will have fateful consequences for the Kremlin and Russia as a whole.

            “What will happen next is not hard to imagine,” he says. “It is clear that for one and the same price, it is more profitable to produce vodka of a lower proof for water is cheaper than alcohol and the difference in three degrees for the ordinary consumer, accustomed as he is to drinking cologne and medicines, won’t be noticed.”

            According to Ilchenko, “it is not excluded and is even extremely likely that [this move to reduce still further the alcohol content of vodka] will occur under slogans about the struggle for popular sobriety.” And such moves may go a long way before anyone recognizes what will happen because they are a kind of hybrid prohibition rather than the real thing.

            Russian officials certainly understand that banning alcohol is political suicide. They have before them the evidence of what happened to Nicholas II and Mikhail Gorbachev.  But they may imagine that cutting the proof of vodka won’t matter in the same way, Ilchenko says. They should consider another case from history to see how wrong they are.

            “The Bolsheviks, for whom nothing was sacred, after having restored vodka trade in 1923” got in trouble when they cut the alcohol content of vodka from 40 percent to 30.   They “quickly understood this was a path to nowhere, that 40 percent and a half liter are holy things, and that anyone who violates these will be overthrown.”  Consequently, they backed down. 

            According to Ilchenko, “all Russian history leads to one conclusion: one must not touch half liter bottles of 40 percent vodka. One must not make it inaccessible for the people or even more ban it.” If the authorities do, they must recognize that “from the beginning of experiments with vodka to the destruction of Russia usually takes about five years.”

            With Putin’s “hybrid” attack on vodka, this term may last ten years. “But even this is good news,” the Ukrainian commentator says.  “This means that by 2028, we will have a chance to live in a world where the present-day Russian Federation will be called the Commonwealth of Independent States.”

            “Of course,” Ilchenko says, “the history with vodka to an observer may seem insignificant. The dawning collapse of Russia is indicated by much more essential features and symptoms. But the attack on vodka guarantees the already indisputable prognosis of the inevitable disintegration of Russia.”

            “All its history is a confirmation of that.”

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