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By John Helmer, Moscow

Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under  Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.

How little the Germans have changed.

But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.”  By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”  

So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.  

Annalena Baerbock (right), foreign minister of Germany since December 8,2021.

The latest opinion polling by the independent Levada Centre in Moscow reveals that Russians are showing much more than sangfroid towards the sanctions weapons which have been thrown against them since the sanctions war began in 2014. Follow the blue and black chart lines through these years and it can be seen that optimism has remained resilient, and at the most general level, the gap between positive resistance and negative concern remains stable.

Source: https://www.levada.ru

In the June and August 2022 Levada polls of the country and of Moscow residents, there is a larger concern among Muscovites, though in aggregate that  is coming from a small minority.  Th following table reveals that among Muscovites, the wealthiest Russians in the country, almost three-quarters say they are not afraid of what the sanctions war is doing to them.

This isn’t insouciance, brainwashing, or delusion.  It is much stronger resistance among Russians to the sanctions war than is believed in Washington, Paris, Berlin, or the other west European capitals. There, by contrast,  current opinion polling reveals significantly more German anxiety.  For the future of Baerbock’s war in Europe, the Germans, French and British are now more fearful than the Russians.

Source: https://www.levada.ru/

Levada reports that Moscow residents are more troubled about sanctions, compared to Russians outside the capital city – 46% of them are concerned about sanctions. “Also, relatively high concern is typical for residents of cities from 100 to 500 thousand and more than 500 thousand of the population. Sanctions worry 44% of respondents who ‘have enough for clothes’. 23% of those who have enough for clothes are very worried about sanctions, 21% are quite worried; among respondents who ‘barely have enough for food’, sanctions are very worried about 26%, quite worried about 15%. There are no noticeable differences in the age groups.”

“Slightly more than a third of respondents are concerned about the termination of supplies of some Western goods to the Russian Federation (19% are ‘very worried’, 18% are ‘quite worried’). At the same time, concerns about import restrictions are perceived only slightly more acutely than in 2014. Restrictions on entry to Western countries concern about a fifth of respondents, primarily those respondents who have been to Western countries (about 20% of Russians have such experience).”  

The bottom line – and  this is the western media war-making line justifying the sanctions war in Europe – is that, according to Levada, “79% of respondents believe that sanctions will not have a negative impact on Russia’s development. At the same time, slightly more than half (55%) of respondents believe that sanctions will strengthen the country and become an incentive for its development, about a quarter (24%) — that sanctions will not affect development in any way. 16% believe that sanctions will cause significant damage to Russia.”

Among the Germans, public anxiety is better measured, not by media reports or protest crowds in the streets, but in the sales of pain-killers at pharmacies.  Among Russians, it has been customary to measure the consumption of alcohol – that’s vodka, but not still and sparkling wine.

So what to make of the latest report  from  Rosalkogolregulirovanie (Federal Service for Alcohol Market Regulation) that in the eight months of this year, 72.35 million dal [decalitres] of alcoholic beverages with a strength of more than 9 degrees were sold in Russia; this is 8.4% more than a year earlier (66.75 million dal). Among the most popular drinks were champagne, sparkling wines, vodka and cognac.

Another of the effects of the sanctions war is that at present,  publications on the website of Rosalkogolregulirovanie are blocked in some countries of the alliance against Russia.

According to the Kommersant and Interfax newspaper versions of the Rosalkogolregulirovanie report on retail sales of wine-making beverages, “among alcoholic beverages, low-alcohol beverages, in which the proportion of ethyl alcohol is up to 9%, were in the greatest demand among Russian residents. In eight months, their sales increased by 66.6%. During the same period, sales of liqueur wines doubled (up to 425.5 thousand dal); vodka — by 7.1% (up to 49.4 million dal); cognac — by 3.9% (up to 7.76 million dal); champagne and sparkling wines — by 8% (up to 11.1 million dal). Sales of spirits also showed an increase of 8.4% (66.75 million dal). In general, alcohol sales (excluding beer, beer drinks, cider, poiret [pear cider] and mead) increased by 8.4% (140 million dal) compared to the same period last year.”

“In comparison with July,  in August Russians bought less champagne and sparkling wine by 7.7% (up to 1.4 million dal), fruit wine — by 8.2% (859,100 dal), low-alcohol beverages — by 0.1% (up to 1.4 million dal) and strong alcohol — by 1.3% (9.159 million dal). In August, Russians preferred to drink liqueur wines more often;  they were sold by 8.3% more (up to 75.5 thousand dal). In aggregate alcohol sales in August decreased by 6% compared to July (to 7.5 million dal).”

Vadim Drobiz (right) is Russia’s leading expert on the alcohol market; he is the director of the Centre for Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets
(TsIFRRA). Follow the archive of his analyses and reports here.  Asked how he interprets this year’s consumption increases, especially for champagne, Drobiz replied: “Everything goes roughly according to the following scenario. To start with, there has been a sharp rise in the exchange rate, followed by a 35%-40% drop in imports, a substitutive increase in the production of Russian products, a decrease in the
consumption of wine products in the lower price segment, and an increase in the consumption of low-alcohol beverages.”

“Usually imports of wine products recover after two years of trends like these. The recovery isn’t fast because higher-priced alcohol is consumed mainly by the middle class. The market of muzhik [macho men’s] alcoholic beverages has also been reviving: gin, whiskey, tequila and absinthe returned. But then in 2020, a special situation began to develop in Russia. The middle class, accustomed to actively drinking alcohol abroad, stayed at home because of the coronavirus restrictions. Before that, an incredible amount of alcohol was drunk abroad or brought back to Russia when Russians came home.  As a result of the pandemic restrictions, Russians bought all this alcohol at home. Therefore, imports then increased by 20% to 25%, and production too.”

“And now, in 2022, sales of liqueur wines, champagne and low-alcohol cocktails have increased due to the sanctions halting first further wine imports, and now Russian tourist travel to western Europe.”

Does this mean that instead of drinking French champagne in France, or prosecco in Italy, Russians, especially middle-class Muscovites, are drinking more at home, paying higher prices for the wines, but saving money on the cost of their trips abroad?

Not exactly. For the fact is that Russia’s importers and distributors of French and Italian wine are finding their way around the sanctions and building new networks of supply for what is officially known as parallel imports. Parallel imports are authorised by the Russian government to enter the country without the permission of the brand-name, trademark, or copyright owner. The producers understand what is happening, but they look the other way as they sell into third-country export-import hubs, knowing their products will be reexported to Russia. The most important of these new hubs is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Russian tourist travel there has been sky-rocketing.

Where to buy alcohol in Dubai --  https://thetastingclass.com/
When the US military were waging their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dubai was a major hub for the supply of civilian goods to Baghdad and Kabul. These  Pentagon procurement flows have dried up in Dubai; they are being replaced by the US war against Russia.   

According to Drobiz, “most Russians will not notice the loss of imported whiskey and gin from the shelves. Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Finance announced that there would be no parallel import of alcohol. We did not have any excitement either in chain stores or in specialized ones. From this I conclude that the consumer had already solved his problems.”

This is also happening because the Ministry of Trade and Industry has overruled the Finance Ministry and is now proposing to allow parallel imports without interference from customs, at least in order to supply the stocking of alcohol in the shops before the seasonal surge in purchasing for the celebration of the New Year and Christmas holidays. “After 2014,” Drobiz explains, “the large federal retail chains began to actively import themselves. They have a rather serious role in the import of wine, for example. As for strong alcohol, they have a few opportunities too. If parallel imports are allowed now, the Ministry of Industry and Trade will lobby for the [big retailers]. It  is very profitable to engage in expensive premium alcohol, which is drunk by the wealthiest group of Russians.”

At the moment the Trade Ministry’s proposal, initiated on September 16,  will allow parallel imports of 90 foreign brands of alcohol – including Jameson, Chivas, Johnnie Walker and Jim Beam whiskey, Finlandia vodka, Aperol, Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater gin,  Hennessy cognac, Moet Chandon and Veuve Clicquot champagne,  and Bacardi rum. The Ministry of Finance opposes the Trade Ministry on parallel imports because they claim that counterfeit goods will flood the market; they are also reluctant to let slip their collection of excise taxes on the trade. Some experts believe that up to a third of alcohol for sale on Moscow’s shelves may be fake.

To allow parallel imports but block the rise of counterfeiting is the problem which government officials are now debating before a final decision is issued on the alcohol import scheme. According to Leonid Rafailov, a leading Moscow wine importer, the best way to prevent counterfeiting of the premium import brands is to negotiate with the manufacturers. “Yes, formally the brands have left the market, but the producers are potentially ready to work in tandem with the [Russian] regulator. If we, as a state, assure the control that their products do not fall into chaotic circulation and do not mix on the shelves with counterfeit, almost all manufacturers are ready for dialogue. In due course they will support their former importers.”   In other words, producers who refuse risk losing the Russian market to competitors and to counterfeiters; European figures indicate that until this year Russia ranked 10th in Europe in average per capita consumption of alcohol; it ranked 5th in value of alcohol sales.  .

A second Moscow importer is not as confident. “Whiskey and champagne producers are already experiencing problems in order to meet the worldwide demand for their products. So in this situation, the political conflict has turned out to work in their favor — they refused to supply to Russia and now they can fill the other markets. You cannot count on cooperation with them, and without that, [Rosalkogolregulirovanie] will not be able to fully control the quality of products.  You can’t check the legality of the product, its origin, because you don’t have the opportunity to go to where it was made, and ask if it’s his products or something brewed in the slums of Mumbai. When this connection is broken, there is a chance that illegal goods will slip through. Fakes, which, for example, have a crooked label, will be easily tracked, but otherwise no one is immune from this.”  

Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov (right), who is also the Trade Minister, has ordered that the final government decision on the parallel imports of alcohol must be made by the end of this month. “We are performing a technical role, bearing in mind that  colleagues from the association of trade enterprises — ACORT — have submitted the appropriate application taking into account the upcoming New Year holidays. And here as a rule, New Year’s holidays then grow into all the other holidays. As they say, they want to replenish the assortment with those traditional products which have always been on the shelves.”  

In other remarks Manturov has confirmed that the overall volume of parallel imports is accelerating very rapidly.  His ministry had been projecting $16 billion in value between May, when the scheme was introduced to combat sanctions, and the end of December; this estimate has now been raised by 25% to $20 billion. For more on the development of the parallel import market in other sectors, read this.    “According to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, for the three and a half months of operation of the mechanism [since May 17], almost $9.4 billion worth of goods were imported — $3.1 billion in August alone,” Manturov told the press this week.

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