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The Go-Between: Latvia’s role getting alcohol into Russia

Latvia and Lithuania have drastically increased their whisky exports to Russia over the last year, the majority of which come from European companies looking to hide their Russian ties.

The Go-Between: Latvia's role getting alcohol into Russia

In the first nine months of last year, Russia imported almost US$262.5 million (£208m) worth of whisky, almost four times more than in the same period the year before.

Latvia was responsible for almost three-quarters of total imports, according to figures published by the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, worth US$190.6m (£151m).

In second place came another Baltic country, Lithuania, also formerly part of the USSR. Lithuania sold Russia US$28.9m (£22.9m) worth of whisky, shipping nine times more in monetary terms than in the first nine months of 2022.

Latvia and Lithuania have been major backers of Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Latvia condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine during its first hours and declared its readiness to accept refugees from Ukraine and suspended the issue of Latvian visas to Russian citizens.

Their readiness to supply drinks to Russia is therefore at odds with the two countries’ foreign policies in general. However, the two Baltic states are not the only ones to blame, as they are being used as a go-between for European companies to get booze into Russia.

Veniamin Grabar, the long-standing president of Russia’s Ladoga Group, told RIA Novosti: “If previously, according to documents, imports went to Russia simply in transit through Latvia or Lithuania, now the final point is the Baltic States , and from there the delivery goes to the Russian Federation.”

He explained that the supply chain has in fact stayed the same, with the only change being “a little paperwork”.

The reason? “Often foreign suppliers do not want to take risks and indicate Russia as the final delivery point,” he said.

According to RIA Novosti the top five countries exporting whisky to Russia also included Great Britain, although its exports decreased 18% to US$10.4m (£8.2m) year-on-year. France increased supply to Russia by 1.5 times to US$7m (£5.5m), and Armenia upped shipments by 2.5 times to US$5.6 million (£4.4m).

Export figures to Russia are down significantly in the last decade, however. In 2014, Russia was Latvia’s second largest export partner, taking 14% of total goods exported. Now it is lower than 6%.

The beginning of the war also led to massive suspension of drinks’ exports to Russia from across the globe, primarily from Western countries and by such leading producers as Diageo, LVMH, Pernod Ricard.

The US suspended all official supplies of spirits to Russia regardless of price.

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