American bars start boycotting Russian vodka over Ukraine

Bars in Tennessee and Texas have begun boycotting Russian vodka in response to Russia’s invasion, and now-annexation, of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

A similar boycott of Russian vodka last year, primarily focused on superstar-brand Stolichnaya, is credited for bringing worldwide attention and condemnation to Russia’s draconian crackdown on its gay and trans citizens.

And now, as always, it seems the gays were, as usual, ahead of the trend.

(And yeah, Stoli is Russian. Read my note at the bottom.)

Russia boycott

Queer Nation/RUSA LGBT Russian vodka dump at Russian consulate in NYC by ©Scott Wooledge

Queer Nation/RUSA LGBT Russian vodka dump at Russian consulate in NYC in 2013, by ©Scott Wooledge

At Big Johnson Liquor & Beer, owner Johnny Johnson says he “just didn’t agree with the aggression Russia took on Ukraine.”  He says he’ll stick to “Texas vodka.”  Who knew there was Texas vodka?

And at Bob’s Package Store in Knoxville, Tennessee, Bob Gilbertson pulled all the Russian vodka off the shelves of his liquor store.

At the same time, Ukrainian-Americans in New York state are boycotting Russian oil giant Lukoil, which has gas stations in a number of American states.  So the Russians may be finding larger consumer opposition to the very few brands they have that can compete in the world market.

Boycotts don’t work, until they do

Now, while some claim boycotts don’t work, they don’t – until they do.  Boycotts are difficult things to pull off, but part of what determines your success is your goal.

When Dan Savage, Queer Nation and I (along with many others) kicked off our Russian vodka boycott last July, 2013, I’m not sure any of us thought that vodka alone was going to get Vladimir Putin to stop oppressing gay and trans Russians.  We did think, however, that the boycott would be a useful tool for getting the media’s attention, for galvanizing the gay community and our allies worldwide, and ultimately for educating people about Russia’s ongoing, and increasing, abuses of human rights.

And we were right, it worked. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who pays attention to the news who hasn’t heard about Russia’s oppression of gays, a topic that was relatively unknown outside of gay activist circles less than a year ago.

There’s also a moral argument for, and component to, boycotts, and Eric Sasson explains:

Putin may not change his position on the issue, and the discrimination will certainly continue, but the gays in Russia will know they are not alone. This alone is justification enough, because there is one thing that is almost always more useless than outrage: silence.

I’ll end with this tweet I saw yesterday:


Well, is it?

NB Stoli is Russian. And until they come out and say “Stoli is not Russian vodka,” which they oddly haven’t, they are:

Stolichnaya’s distributor in 2008 to Vanity Fair: “Stolichnaya as it is sold outside Russia is distilled in Russia and moved from Russia to Latvia where it’s put in bottles. There is nothing added, nothing taken away, no additions, no subtractions from the product that leaves Russia. Stolichnaya is the original authentic genuine Russian vodka brand made with genuine authentic Russia vodka from Russia.” Period.

That’s Stoli talking about Stoli, so it’s a legitimate target of a boycott.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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41 Responses to “American bars start boycotting Russian vodka over Ukraine”

  1. L Kolenko says:

    Thanks so much to those who have and are boycotting, and to the author for sharing this information. There are some nuances to boycotting vodka in particular, i.e., don’t focus solely on Stoli, but on Russian Standard and others as well, because the boycott is about affecting money flows that could finance aggression, not on targeting specific companies. When people here began boycotting Stoli to raise awareness about LGBT rights in Russia, the financial impact, as the author said, could not be big, and, arguably, a company like Stoli doesn’t have any political clout, as that’s not the relationship of business and state in Russia; even hurting the pockets of a particular company there probably could not have affected oppression or laws. A boycott of Russian vodka and other projects in the case of Ukraine could have more direct impact, because this time the money could support military aggression. Make no mistake, though – the crackdowns on LGBT rights in Russia are directly related to the bullying of Ukraine, as the laws were part of a larger plan to disrupt civil society in Russia and prevent dissent. The laws had their desired effect in that most Russians believe their society is under attack by western “perverts”, and so they support all the Kremlin is doing with a tremendous nationalistic fervor. Don’t forget about boycotting Baltika beer and whatever other goods are imported in your area (gas, seafood products, chocolate. wood products – Ikea is a big user of wood from old-growth Russian forests). I hope that this boycott opens up the world of Ukrainian liquor to Americans – Nemiroff is a big Ukrainian brand whose distribution could be widened, and Ukrainian bison-grass vodka is a must-try. Ukrainian-Americans aren’t calling for a boycott because we hate Russians or want to drive a wedge into American diaspora communities, we just can’t bear the thought of businesses in our communities funding Russian aggression towards our loved ones in Ukraine. Thank you!!

  2. Obama is a Fool says:

    Funny how American liberals support the oppression of a democratically elected government and people who want to leave the tyranny of a liberal coup.

    To agree with Obama is to hate democracy. I pray Russia kills every single man woman and child that helped overthrow the Ukrainian government that is now in the hands of progressive terrorist.

    To that end, I have personally provided material support to this effort as a GSA Contractor. God Damn Obama and long live democracy!

  3. Nadia says:

    Anastasia and what your boycott will support?

  4. Nadia says:

    Thank you. Nemiroff is a very good Ukrainian Vodka.

  5. HotelQuebec says:

    Going to boycott all Russian goods and, instead, will be buying Ukrainian goods.

  6. Bella Aurelia Valkyria says:

    I do. Nemiroff is awesome. Especially Nemiroff with pepper and honey. Yum!

  7. Bella Aurelia Valkyria says:

    Bla bla bla… the pathetic chatter of Russian propaganda. Russia send three times the products to the US than US to Russia. (Russia -> US 27 billion USD, US -> Russia 11 billion USD). Most rating agencies that matter are American: none are Russian. Most credit card companies that matter are American: none are Russian. US is gas independent and so far there was an embargo on shale gas exports. This embargo ends now. The legislation is in the works and export permits are being sped up. Within 3 years billions of cubic meters of LPG will be flowing to newly built gasports in Lithuania, Poland and Germany.

    Really… Russia boycott of US goods may have a miniscule effect on some American companies, but your economy will grind to a halt.

  8. Bella Aurelia Valkyria says:

    It’s time for us, the people concerned with Russia rewnewed imperialism and aggressive behavior to do something. Hit them in the pocket. Write to your MP’s, senators, lords or congressmen and ask them to sanction Russia economically. Stop watching and listening to Russian propaganda (ignore Russia Today). Stop buying Russian goods (food and vodka is a good start but there are thousands more). If your country is dependent on Russian gas or oil, diversify: use induction stoves or heat pumps in your house. Liberate yourself from Russian influence.

    For a good discussion and to show support join our FB group Economic Boycott of Russia:

  9. Petro Kushniryk says:

    You can keep pointing fingers at what U.S. did or does. Regardless of that Putin and his actions are still not justified by anything.

  10. Anastasia Rainbow says:

    Hey, bro, who are you trying to explain the situation? They don’t even have a slightest idea of where Ukrain is. Do you think they’ll ever EVER think of even givig a try at finding out the history of Ukrain and Russia? OH, COME ON! Не надо метать бисер перед свиньями.

  11. Anastasia Rainbow says:

    No, you didn’t conquer! You just BURNED DOWN the whole Vietnam, left millions of Arabic people without their homes in Iran, Iraque, Libya… Shall I proceed on reminding you the glorious history of America?

  12. Anastasia Rainbow says:

    Haha. Let’s see what do you say if Russian boycotte McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, KFC, whatever… OK? From now on we’re starting a campaign against YOU, dear American frenemies!))))

  13. Badgerite says:

    “They want independence.”

    Sir, they are supposed to have independence already. When Russia invaded the Crimea, according to international boundaries, that was invading a separate, independent country known as Ukraine.
    The “new puppet regime” was ‘going’ to do no such thing. Even now, the government in Kiev is not asking to join NATO. What Putin and Russia were losing control of was the Ukrainian economy. What triggered all the upheaval and demonstrations in the first place was Moscow’s man in the Ukraine turning away from greater economic integration with Europe. NATO had and has nothing to do with this except in the paranoid mind of Putin.

  14. kingstonbears says:

    Texas vodka? Yes, it’s available up here in Canada and is unbelievably good. Our favorite is a label called Tintos. Haven’t bought Russian vodka in years as it’s like drinking battery acid.

  15. JacobiJones says:

    But we didn’t conquer anyone, our overthrow of governments is very likely to have ulterior motives, but Russia just straight invaded Ukraine! Also, Russia has a history of human rights abuse, USA’s drone use is controversial, but I think it’s a little better than starvation and police brutality. As to the effectiveness of the boycott, did you read his post? It explains very well the meida purpose of a boycott, even if it won’t have an economic impact.

  16. makayli verran says:

    my Aunty Amelia got a new blue Land Rover LR4 only from
    working part time off a home computer… helpful hints C­a­s­h­D­u­t­i­e­s­.­ℂ­o­m

  17. This boycott is stupid and will not have any effect. I don’t drink much to begin with but if the price is right, I will drink Russian vodka, Ukrainian vodka and North Korean vodka. If America really wanted to boycott Russia they’d stop using Russian rocketry to go to ISS/space.

    When the US illegally invaded Iraq and Afghanistan it wasn’t a big deal because “terrorists and stuff.” Of course Russia on the other hand is a very evil empire. Russia totally goes around the world and helps overthrow legitimate governments and flaunts its moral superiority in the faces of other nations.

  18. dula says:

    This site has already made it clear that the significant neo-Nazi participation in the new Ukrainian government (yes, a coup because the parliament did not have the constitutionally required number of votes to dissolve it and their democratically elected leader had to flee under threat of death) is nothing to be all that concerned about since other EU nations have neo-Nazi parties. Of course, those EU neo-Nazis don’t have control of the ministries of defense and the police like in the Ukraine. So, the lesson for you Mr. King: Rogue Russian neo-Nazis who are beating up Russian LGBT folk are a huge threat (I agree) but Ukrainian neo-Nazis are just a joke, even though they have significant influence in the highest levels of government.

  19. iFirebrand says:

    Now, when 100,000 people pour out the vodkas and record it, then we’ll have an effect:

  20. evil says:

    try Ukrainian vodka :)

  21. Stoli says:

    Remember Stolichnaya vodka isn’t russian vodka but Latvian vodka!

  22. evil says:

    I live in Ukraine, Kiev, everything that I wrote this clown lie like a raving Russian consul in UN

  23. perljammer says:

    Well… I know that at least some Eastern European countries either have or are in the process of, enacting restrictions on the rights of LGBT folks. Whether that translates into “most Eastern Europeans hate LGBT”, I don’t know. At any rate, joining Russia to take advantage of the better LGBT situation kind of seems like an “out of the frying pan, into the fire” exercise to me.

    I have to admit, though — what any of that has to do with a vodka boycott escapes me.

  24. cole3244 says:

    economic war is the way too show your displeasure with another nation, corp, or entity, bombs and bullets proved they only exacerbate any problem when used as a first or last resort.

  25. Jim King says:

    you do realize that most Eastern Europeans hate LGBT right? In fact the western nationalistic Ukrainians who illegally seized power are more conservative and religious than the Russian half. They will be more discriminated in Ukraine now than they ever were.
    Putin is just following the will of the majority..blame christian orthodoxy!

  26. Jim King says:

    wrong…They want independence. The new regime is an US supported coup e tat. Crimea was even part of Russia and given away.But I agree about the false pretext. Russia needs it fleet for national security and the new puppet regime was going to kick out the fleet and invite NATO in. How would we respond if Canada had a coup tat and wanted a military alliance with Iran?
    But more disturbing is that Texas is supporting a boycott. In many ways the situation of Crimea getting independence is similar.
    Texas belonged to Mexico and wanted independence. Since the people in Texas were Anglo’s the US helped them against Mexico.
    Yes Yanuk is corrupt but so was the last US sponsored leadership Yushenko and Tymishenko. Right now the leaders are extremists and other oligarchs. My family in Odessa(mother in law) can’t believe that they are being ruled now by a gov’t that doesn’t even represent half the country.

  27. perljammer says:

    What? Who said you did? The article rightly credited the original vodka boycott with bringing attention to the plight of LGBTs in Russia, and implied that this latest boycott was inspired by the original (“we gays have always been trendsetters”). But everybody who hasn’t been living under a rock knows about the Russia/Ukraine/Crimea situation, so from a publicity standpoint, this boycott is probably not necessary. Of course, if the point is to take a visible moral stand and give them something to talk about on Facebook, more power to the boycotters.

  28. I dont’ think I called for a massive vodka boycott as the solution to the Crimea problem.

  29. wearing out my F key says:

    A few liquor stores take Stoli off the shelves? What are you hoping this
    will achieve? I think people are aware that Crimea is back with Russia-
    it was on TV and everything.

    Plus, Stoli is a Russian vodka? Okay….. but it sounds kind of “freedom” fri to me.

  30. perljammer says:

    The goal of the original vodka boycott was to bring attention to a dire situation that was going largely unnoticed, and it was pretty successful at achieving that goal. Now, maybe it’s just me, but my impression is that the Russia/Ukraine/Crimea situation has received a metric crapload of attention. So, what’s the point of the new vodka boycott, again?

  31. Badgerite says:


  32. 4th Turning says:

    The very same nightmare causing sleepless nights for right-wing (and/or)
    fundamentalists the world over? An open minded ________ (fill in the blank).

  33. Well it actually worked for us on the gay issue. We got exactly what we were shooting for, worldwide publicity on a topic that was being ignored. In this case, it’s not about boycotting vodka. I would hope that such sentiment would help push for more serious efforts against Russian business, sanctions, divestiture, etc.

  34. MichaelS says:

    Hmmm… well, corporate sponsors, how are those Sochi Olympics turning out for you now?

  35. Badgerite says:

    America and Europe need to step up the economic aid and even military aid. I would not take ‘assurances’ from Vladimir to the bank. It helps to be prepared. And to show support for a people in a precarious position. The intimidation factor alone, of the Russian troops on the border would be dramatic.
    In South Ossetia, the Russians may have had a point about protecting the population, though according to an article in the Huffington Post, the economic aid promised to Ossetia by Russia has disappeared down a black hole of corruption with leaders there living much as Yanukovych did while the population still lives in bombed out houses. It seems to be the ‘Russian’ economic model.
    In Crimea, the population was under no threat, nor was the Russian military presence.
    So the justification seems a bit thin, to say the least. I wonder if it will work out any better for them than it has for Ossetia.

  36. Badgerite says:

    Putin’s worst nightmare? An open minded Russian!

  37. 4th Turning says:

    Always in hopes of wisely targeted (effective?) boycotting. Not a repeat of “French” fries or
    mindless discrimination against America respecting (and loving) Arabs/Muslims. College students,
    time to revisit those endowment portfolios again for starters.
    Have to include this video. “Healthy” pizza parlor in Silverlake what more to say…

  38. wearing out my F key says:

    Oh, no. I think the vodka ban is more than enough. When the Russian people see all the extra vodka laying around, they just won’t know what to do with themselves.

  39. Drew2u says:

    Money is the only language the world understands. Shall we start naming companies that are sympathetic with Russia, like Exxon-Mobil?

  40. wearing out my F key says:

    “Is it true america won’t help us?” Of course we’ll help you! By boycotting what may or may not be a Russian product at a few bars in a few states. That should bring more than enough awareness to… whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

  41. caphillprof says:

    It’s deja vu all over again.

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