MOSCOW Dec 24 Russian President Vladimir Putin
ordered his government on Wednesday to rein in rising vodka
prices, as he battles to preserve his popularity amid an
aggravating economic crisis.
Putin told a meeting with government officials and regional
governors that expensive vodka prices encourage the production
of bootleg spirits, which carry greater risks to people's health
than legally produced alcohol.
Russia is facing its worst economic crisis since 1998, when
the country devalued the rouble and defaulted on its
debt. Putin's popularity is partly based on his reputation for
providing prosperity and stability.
"The overshoot of vodka prices leads only to increasing
consumption of bootleg (spirits)," said Putin, who is known for
promoting a healthy lifestyle. "I think the relevant structures
(government bodies) should think of that," he added.
According to a study by leading international universities
last year, a quarter of all Russian men die before they reach
their mid-fifties, and their love of alcohol - particularly
vodka - is partly to blame.
The government-regulated minimum retail price of half a
litre of vodka has been increased by around 30 percent since
last year to 220 roubles ($4).
Russia has been tightening regulations for producers of
vodka and beer, such as Russia's Synergy, Poland's
CEDC and Danish brewer Carlsberg.
Russia's economy is expected to slide into recession in 2015
due to falling oil prices and Western sanction over the Ukraine
crisis. Annual inflation, meanwhile, is expected to exceed 10
percent this year.
($1 = 54.1210 roubles)
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alexander Winning
and Tom Heneghan)