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Government May Restore Control Over a Russian Institution: Vodka

June 11, 1993

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russians driven to drink by painful market reforms soon may find it harder to drown their sorrows: Boris Yeltsin is considering tightening controls over Russia’s lucrative liquor business.

The Cabinet has prepared a presidential decree that would require the licensing of sellers and producers of liquor, set standards of quality for spirits and establish controls over liquor advertising, government spokesman Valentin Sergeyev said Friday.

The proposed decree is aimed at curtailing the unregulated peddlers who sell beer, wine and liquor from sidewalk kiosks in cities across Russia. It would outlaw the sale of spirits ″by hand or from places unequipped with proper storage facilities,″ Sergeyev told the Interfax news agency.

The issue is sensitive for Russians, who are legendary drinkers from the lowliest laborer to national leaders. For years, the longest queues at shortage-plagued Soviet shops were at liquor stores.

In 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev branded alcohol the nation’s scourge and mounted an intense campaign against it, to no avail.

Imbibing is so central to Russian life that Moscow officials briefly reimposed price controls on vodka last year after Yeltsin lifted limits on other goods. They hoped to avoid riots at liquor stores and give people a subsidized way to forget their woes.

In the last year, however, an explosion in the number of private peddlers has been accompanied by reports of poisoning. In some cases, spirits tainted with cleaning fluid and wood alcohol have been sold.

In addition, many peddlers of safe products - including foreign brands - evade taxes by importing liquor illegally or buying it directly from delivery trucks and distilleries, Sergeyev said.

He told the Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies the decree will ″restore the state monopoly on the production, storage and sale of alcohol.″

Sergeyev did not say when Yeltsin might sign the decree.