Fake vodka wreaks havoc on Russia

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The Independent Online
The dimensions of Russia's catastrophic alcohol problems became horribly clear yesterday with a claim by the government that this year 43,000 people died from drinking bootleg vodka.

The figures underline one of the causes behind the precipitous drop in Russia's population, which last year fell by about 430,000 - the equivalent of the loss of a city the size of Edinburgh. The demographic crisis has seen the average life expectancy for a male level out at only 58.

Delivering the statistics, Boris Tereschenko, head of the Interior Ministry's economic crimes division, said the police had identified 1,400 underground stills in Russia, more than 10 times the number of registered distilleries.

Large quantities are also smuggled in from abroad. "Every second bottle of vodka has been produced illegally," he said.

So common are fatalities from moonshine that only the worst incidents, such as the death by poisoning of 22 people in Krasnoyarsk in June, make headlines. In Moscow, moves have begun to crack down on fake vodka by introducing a law which compels all alcohol manufacturers to sell their wares through one retailer.

But controlling the heavily criminalised drinks industry is an awesome undertaking, littered with past failures. The 147 million population is at risk from poisoning as never before because alcohol consumption, and particularly binge drinking, has risen steeply amid the economic malaise that has followed the Soviet Union's collapse.

The cost of this was graphically revealed by other numbers released yesterday: there were 1,295 murders in Moscow in the first 10 months of the year, of which one in four are believed to have been committed by people who were drunk.