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‘This job simply cannot be done sober’ As the war rages on, Russian officials’ alcohol consumption is reaching new heights

How do members of Russia’s bureaucratic apparatus deal with the stress of waging a war? With their remedy of choice — alcohol. The independent outlet Verstka recently published a report about the drinking habits of Russia’s government officials, including their preferred type of vodka and whether Putin himself drinks at all. Meduza in English is publishing an abridged translation of the story.

In Russia, if you’re of deputy governor or higher rank, you drink. A lot. While Verstka’s sources disagreed on the exact definitions of alcoholism, they all said that those close to the Kremlin, in the Federal Assembly, and regional authorities drink on a regular basis. “They frequently miss meetings, show up drunk to events, and take illicit substances,” said one source.

“Let’s put it this way: Now, more than ever, employees in the president’s administration start their day with a glass of vodka — some even drink a bottle with breakfast,” says one source.

Another source tells Verstka that one regional governor has a particularly severe drinking problem and is completely unable to function without alcohol. His addiction is so severe that he’s even missed invitations from Putin for Federal Assembly meetings. On most mornings, someone is specifically tasked with searching for him or waking him with phone calls. When he does make it to meetings, he barely participates, instead “sitting there like a zombie.” According to the source, the governor’s drinking songs of choice are Soviet victory songs, the band Lyube (reportedly Putin’s favorite), and songs depicting Russian criminal culture. “He always drank, but never to this extent,” said one source, who explains that the governor’s recent behavior is caused by “the stress of the news, and pressure from both the Kremlin and local elites.”

In correspondence with Verstka, one regional governor from the Urals said that, since the moment the war started, he’s been drunk. He also said it’s been impossible for him to give up drinking — but he considers that “pretty normal.” After news broke of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the deputy governor completely stopped responding to Verstka.

The tale of alcoholism within the Russian government wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the former President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev. Rumors about his drinking habits spread especially quickly after he started fiercely criticizing the West, and those against the war.

Many hide their struggle with alcoholism. One especially infamous case is that of Russia’s Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev, who died during a civil defense exercise in the Arctic city of Norilsk in September 2021. Spokespeople for the Emergency Situations Ministry said that Zinichev died while trying to save a filmmaker participating in the exercise with him, who also died during the incident. The truth is, however, that the minister and those accompanying him were all drunk, and it was actually the director that tried to save Zinichev, who had slipped and fell into the water. “State media called Zinichev’s death heroic. Wouldn’t it have been better if they had written the truth?” remarked one source.

More on deadly drinking habits in the Russian military

‘They drink out of fear’ A dispatch from the closed Russian military village where six draftees have died since mobilization began

More on deadly drinking habits in the Russian military

‘They drink out of fear’ A dispatch from the closed Russian military village where six draftees have died since mobilization began

Pick your poison

While Putin emphasizes his commitment to a healthy lifestyle, his government banquets tell a different story. One regional deputy governor tells Verstka that each guest drinks an average of 1.5 to two bottles (before, guests just got one).

Russian bureaucrats’ preferred alcoholic beverages? Cognac, champagne, and wine, according to a list of alcohol recently purchased for government functions. One order also included 5 million rubles (around $59,600) worth of vodka — imported from Spain, France, and Italy. “Neither the war, nor the sanctions that followed, have been able to stop the conveyor belt of alcohol coming into Russia. On the contrary, many Western companies that said they’d pull out of the Russian market never made good on their promises,” said one source. Such companies include the French whiskey, rum, and cognac manufacturer Pernod Ricard, and the Czech brewery Budweiser Budvar. Almost every government office in Moscow is stocked with ultra-expensive alcohol, like Remy Martin Louis XIII Grande Champagne premium cognac, and luxury varieties of Château Margaux wine.

There are even high-level officials and businessmen that distill their own alcohol, like the oligarch Gennady Timchenko. And who can forget about Medvedev and his moonshine? According to some sources, Medvedev would gift his homemade brew to members of the government and foreign leaders.

After the start of the counteroffensive, and the arrest warrant against Putin, bureaucrats and members of the elite started to drink hard liquor, such as Grey Goose from France and Belvedere from Poland, according to sources from the Moscow authorities. “The scariest part — now even women have started drinking without shame,” said one source.

What about Putin?

Six months into the war, Putin decided to address the issue of alcoholism across Russia — something he’s done on only a few occasions. “We shouldn’t sweep things under the rug [...], we must address the most severe issues,” said Putin. Later, in a meeting with another governor, he said that “we shouldn’t ban anything, we shouldn’t raise the prices too much.” On the contrary, he said there should be “propaganda to encourage a healthy lifestyle,” and “improve exercise infrastructure.”

Putin is alleged to be particularly concerned about the drinking habits of those in his inner circle who try to drink away the stress of sanctions and war — the President says they should be able to easily carry out their work sober.

According to social media, the President himself almost never drinks. One source reveals that he “looks at those who drink, get drunk, who aren’t alert first thing in the morning, with disdain.” Despite this assessment, some sources say he’s somewhat of a wine connoisseur, and is also quite a fan of beer. An investigation by the Anti-Corruption Foundation even found that Putin’s palace boasts a sort of “beer terrace” on the property.

Putin decides to address alcoholism

‘They’ve taken to the bottle’ The war in Ukraine has caused Russian officials to start drinking more than ever — and Putin’s not pleased

Putin decides to address alcoholism

‘They’ve taken to the bottle’ The war in Ukraine has caused Russian officials to start drinking more than ever — and Putin’s not pleased

So what do bureaucrats get up to when they’re not indulging?

While alcohol is definitely the most popular form of escapism, it’s far from the only one. According to a source close to Verstka, bureaucrats can be divided into three different groups based on how they cope with the stress of war. “The majority are those who follow Putin blindly, do their work quietly, and make sure not to say anything, or even think anything, that appears as though they are questioning their tasks,” said the source.

The second group includes those who believe the country has “found itself at a dead end, and believe there’s no point in working anymore.” Most of those in this group are “honest workers,” who have spent “years building their reputations.” Now, they just work in order to fulfill their basic responsibilities. In terms of their interests, they prefer “alcohol, sports, and sex.”

“Many guzzle down vodka,” said one source, “One of my friends has taken to running marathons, while another has managed to hit on almost every woman that works for him.”

The third group finds solace in “good deeds,” making themselves feel better by, for example, “supplying a grandmother with firewood for the winter, or fixing her pathway,” said one source.

These government officials reportedly “saw that things were going to shit, jumped to fix them, but quickly realized that their ability to do so is extremely limited. That’s why, with few exceptions, they’re either stealing like there’s no tomorrow, indulging in alcohol and sex, or taking up sports.”

Another source remarked, “most understand their work is meaningless. That’s why this job simply cannot be done sober.”

Story by Verstka

Abridged translation by Sasha Slobodov

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