New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, the governor of New Hampshire has taken action to sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invading Ukraine. He ordered that Russian-branded alcohol be removed from state-run liquor shops. The governors of Ohio and Utah have taken out Russian liquors from their shelves. Texas Governor Greg Abbott Greg Abbott askedTexas shops and restaurants to cease selling Russian products
It is an oddly authoritarian reaction, particularly considering that there was a retro-socialist history of state-run liquor shops. This is not going to achieve what the governors believe, except if their goal is to appear like they are doing something. Otherwise, economic harms would fall upon people entirely outside Russia’s boundaries.
Let’s begin with the obvious. The alcohol you are removing already exists. If the profit goes back to Mother Russia then that is already what’s happened. Russia does not lose any rubles if you buy vodka and keep it hidden in the stockroom.
However, there is a larger problem: Russian vodka sometimes doesn’t come from Russia.
All of these things were done back when Russia’s Parliament passed anti-gay laws. LGBT activists responded by boycotting Russian vodka. Everything was covered by a logo. Stolichnaya Vodka was the primary target, as it is one of most popular brands.
The Stoli imported into the USA isn’t Russian. It is manufactured in Latvia by the Luxembourg-based company. Stoli had strong connections to LGBT communities and financially supported 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. However, it attracted a lot media attention for some of its organizers.
This new boycott will also have negligible effect. Stoli has not been produced in Russia. The company even expressed support for Ukraine solidarity via its website.
Imports from Russia remain relatively low in the grand scheme of things. From 2019, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has updated its data to show that Russian imports have reached $22.3 billion. This may seem like a large amount but Russia’s Gross domestic product for 2019 was $1.6 billion. It is less than 1.5% of what we import.
Of all the imports, liquor and food barely make it into the top 10. The total import of Russian food and agricultural products was $69 million. Fuel was the top import: In 2019, we imported $13 Billion in fuel from Russia.
Reuters reported that just 1.2 percent of vodka imported into the United States from Russia was in 2021’s first half. France is much more popular. Smirnoff can be found in America.
Many media outlets have stopped reporting on the LGBT vodka boycott. Instead, they are now pointing out that Russia is not affected by boycotting vodka. This may give people, who otherwise have no control over foreign policies (such as state governors), the feeling that they are making a difference. 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.
You shouldn’t throw your vodka away. Your vodka is not going to help Ukraine. It’s still possible to purchase Ukrainian liquor.