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Contradicting Alcohol Stereotypes, A More Sober Russia Emerges

Russians leading healthier lives and living longer

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A tub filled with Alcohol and Ice
People think Russians drink only vodka, but it just isn't true anymore. Pixabay

Alcohol consumption by Russians has dropped by half over the past decade and now sits at levels that are lower than those of Western countries such as France and Germany, a recent study shows.

The World Health Organization study found that between 2003 and 2016, Russian alcohol use fell by 43%.

Russia “provides a powerful example of success for other countries to reduce the enormous health and economic burdens stemming from alcohol,” the report said.

The findings are proof that the enduring stereotypes of Russia as a vodka-swilling nation are increasingly out of touch, Russian alcohol consumers say.

“People come to the bar not to get drunk, but to rest, relax, and enjoy whatever drink it is that they prefer,” said Alexander Cherkasov, manager of Pasternak Bar, one of a wave of “craft beer” establishments that have swept Moscow and other Russian cities in recent years.

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A glass of beer is pictured in a craft beer bar in Kazan, Russia, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/ VOA

“People think Russians drink only vodka, but it just isn’t true anymore,” Cherkasov added.

Pouring through history

Russian drinking — and state efforts to curb it — is an old story in Russian history, with vodka, considered Russia’s national drink, at the center of events.

According to legend, Vladimir the Great chose Christianity over Islam because of its lax approach to liquor.

“Drinking is the joy of Russia,” the Grand Prince allegedly said. “We cannot do without it.”

In the 1980s, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to curb his country’s fondness for drinking, blaming rampant alcoholism for the Soviet Union’s poor economic performance. Strict dry laws did reduce alcohol consumption, but people joke today that the laws eventually took the Soviet Union with them.

In the 1990s, President Boris Yeltsin’s legendary thirst — and public gaffes — were a source of national shame. They also reflected a grim post-Soviet reality: Alcohol-related deaths were spiking nationwide amid turbulent political and economic change.

In contrast, President Vladimir Putin has set a more sober tone — preferring sporty photo-ops and rarely venturing for a drink in public.

Analysts say that beyond Putin’s carefully managed image, he has introduced smart policies aimed at taming Russian alcohol thirst.

Russian President making a toast
Russian President Boris Yeltsin makes a toast during a meeting with graduating cadets of Russian military schools. Yeltsin discussed the situation in Yugoslavia with his Defence minister on Monday and Russia sent more planeloads of equipment and supplies for its peacekeepers in Kosovo. (From the Archives). VOA

“The fact is, regulation works,” said Evgeny Yakovlev, a leading authority on anti-alcohol policy at Moscow-based New Economic School. “And if you want to reduce alcohol consumption, you can do it,” he added, pointing to Putin’s embrace of liquor taxes, restricted sales hours, and an outright ban on alcohol advertising as examples.

Different tastes for younger drinkers

Changing tastes also explain the shift in alcohol consumption, with younger Russians, in particular, choosing to drink differently than their elders.

“I don’t really enjoy getting drunk, so that’s why I prefer beer,” said Alsubek, who works at a Moscow coffee shop and says he stopped drinking vodka entirely. “I just don’t feel good the next day.”

Polina, 21, a student from St. Petersburg, said: “It’s fashionable these days to go to a bar where they have a craft beer or cider, but we do it really to talk more than drink.”

An outcome of reduced drinking is that Russians are leading healthier lives and living longer. The WHO report cited Russian men for gains in average life expectancy — now at 68 years compared to 57 in the early 1990s.

ALSO READ: Teenagers Who View Beer Ads Likely To Start Drinking: Study

The report also notes that anti-tobacco laws introduced in 2013 are playing a role.

“I’ve noticed that young people are drinking less and playing sports more,” said Sergey Kovalerov, a construction engineer with two grown children. “I don’t drink as much as I used to, either, but I won’t say no to a drink at parties or on the holidays. That’s just normal.” (VOA)

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Russia Allows Chinese Nationals with Business Visas Despite Entry Ban

Russia to Let in Chinese With Business Visas Amid Entry Ban

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Visitors with official, business, humanitarian or transit visas will still be allowed into Russia, despite entry ban due to coronavirus epidemic. Pixabay

Russia’s entry ban for Chinese nationals will be partial and affect only those who travel with tourist, private, student or work visas, the country’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, clarifying the conditions of a sweeping entry ban for Chinese citizens announced the day before.

Visitors with official, business, humanitarian or transit visas will still be allowed into the country, the ministry said.

The ban goes into effect Thursday at midnight Moscow time (2100 GMT). It was announced by the Russian government on Tuesday amid the new coronavirus outbreak centered in China that has infected more than 75,000 people worldwide.

The measure is one of many Russia has taken to keep the virus from spreading. The country so far has reported three confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease — two Chinese citizens in Russia who were treated and released, and a Russian national infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

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A medical staffer works with test systems for the diagnosis of coronavirus, at the Krasnodar Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology microbiology lab in Krasnodar, Russia. VOA

Trains stopped, school vacation extended

Russia suspended all trains to China and North Korea, shut down its land border with China and Mongolia, and extended a school vacation for Chinese students until March 1. Hundreds of Russians who returned from China this year have been hospitalized as a precaution, and medics continue to monitor more than 14,000 people in total.

However, while some of these steps at first appeared sweeping, they turned out to have loopholes and caveats that allowed Russia to maintain its political and economic ties with China. Those ties became increasingly important for Moscow after its relations with the West soured over Russian’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and other disputes.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova argued that the entry ban was necessary because Russia lacks enough facilities to hospitalize all Chinese travelers who may have the virus.

“Ensuring quarantine conditions with permanent monitoring for thousands of travelers from China is unfeasible,” Golikova said.

As described Wednesday, this week’s partial entry ban would minimize the effect on business connections between China and Russia and on the operation of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, a major transit hub for Chinese tourists traveling to Europe.

In the same vein, the Russian government last month halted most air traffic to China, with exceptions for four Chinese airlines and flagship Russian carrier Aeroflot. Currently, there are still regular flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

China has remained a top trading partner for Russia for the last decade, so cutting the ties completely is hardly an option, said Alexander Gabuyev, chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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Medical staff workers in Russia are dedicating a lot of time researching about the recent coronavirus outbreak. VOA

“This contradiction between the need to … control the spread of disease and at the same time to maintain good economic ties with China is dictating this two-steps-forward-one-step-back policy,” Gabuyev said.

Visitors coming to Russia for business or humanitarian purposes account for 10% of all Chinese travelers, according to Gabuyev. Last year, 1.5 million Chinese tourists traveled to Russia.

Millions could be lost

However, Russia’s tourism industry is about to suffer a significant blow with the flow of Chinese visitors effectively cut off during the entry ban. Because of all the restrictions, tour operators working with Chinese travelers could lose up to $47 million of profits in the coming months, Maya Lomidze, head of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, said Wednesday.

Also Read- Heavy Breakfast and Light Dinner Can Prevent Obesity

“The forecast is pessimistic at this point,” Lomidze said. “It would be good to have an understanding of how the situation in China will unfold and how long the travel ban for Chinese nationals will last.” (VOA)