Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Kurgan Official Admits No One Knows How Much Russians Actually Drink

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 24 – Even as Moscow media celebrate the results of a new VTsIOM poll that suggests 40 percent of Russians don’t drink at all, up from 26 percent in 2009 (newsru.com/russia/21sep2018/alcoholpoll.html), a Russian official in the Urals acknowledges that neither he nor anyone else knows how much Russians actually drink.

            The reason is that there are no accurate figures about the enormous amount of illegal alcohol produced and consumed, a category that includes both “off the books” production in regular distilleries and home brew or “moonshine” which Russians call “samogon,” Aleksandr Konstantinov says (ura.news/articles/1036276232).

            Konstantinov is in a position to know: he heads the Kurgan oblast commission for the struggle against falsified production of alcohol products and bootlegging.  And his remarks, along with others cited by URA journalist Tatyana Zhatkina, suggest that the situation with regard to alcohol is moving in a different and more ominous direction than Moscow claims.

            She says that Kurgan officials “cannot deal with the illegal trade in alcohol or tobacco because of shortcomings in the laws” and that store owners are being forced out of business because they can’t purchase the necessary licenses and thus are losing market share to bootleggers and moonshiners who don’t have to pay for such things and can charge far less.

            Since 2011, the number of licenses to sell alcohol in Kurgan oblast has fallen by 60 percent, from 688 to 270, something some officials like to point to as an evidence of spreading sobriety. But in fact, Zhatkina says, it is having exactly the opposite effect. Russians are buying alcohol and surrogates on the streets when they can’t get it in stores.

            Moreover, with the closure of many village stores, which had made most of their profits from the sale of alcohol, the continued existence of the villages they had been supporting becomes impossible. Combined with the dangerous spread of illegal alcohol there, this is leading to the deaths of many villages altogether.

            The flow of illegal alcohol in Kurgan oblast is now so great, she says, that “the siloviki do not control the movement of cargo in the zone of the tariff union” with neighboring Kazakhstan. The number of customs inspectors has fallen to three, and they cannot check every truck. Consequently, it is very easy for illegal goods, including alcohol, to come in that way.

            But according to interior ministry official Andrey Mamayev, “the majority of illegal alcohol sold in the Urals region is falsified, not contraband.” That is, it is either home brew or off the books production from regular factories, something his agency is not able to stop completely however tight the border becomes.

                The policeman adds that laws make it hard to go after moonshiners because they often use a different kind of alcohol than existing legislation ban, and so that such illegal alcohol can’t be stopped except at the point of production, an extremely difficult challenge. Things are so bad, Mamayev says, that “this is now a threat to national security.”

            If regional officials are worried, Moscow’s representatives in the region seem indifferent to the problem. Ruslan Devityarov, the representative of the central Russian alcohol regulation agency in Kurgan, says that “the [alcohol] market there is becoming more civilized.” Those who are actually trying to control it, like Konstantinov and Mamayev, would beg to differ.

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