To protest Russian President Vladimir Putin’s incursion into and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are considering a ban on Russian booze.
In a rare meeting of the political minds, Manitoba Progressive Conservatives and the ruling New Democrats seem to be drinking from the same bottle when it comes to removing Russian alcohol from provincially run liquor stores.
On Wednesday, Manitoba PC MLA and Liquor Control Commission critic Ron Schuler proposed a ban in the Manitoba legislature.
“We are asking the NDP to take action to show the Russians that Manitoba is serious about its condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” Schuler said in a press release. “When good men and women stay silent, those with evil intentions win.”
The same release noted that the Tories were “pleased to stand with the NDP and independent members” last week in an expression of support for Ukraine.
“We now believe it is time to take action and are calling on the minister to remove Russian-made products from MLCC store shelves until this international crisis is resolved,” the release states.
In response, Manitoba NDP cabinet minister Dave Chomiak told CTV Winnipeg that the government is not opposed to banning the products, and would consider the Opposition motion.
“We want to make sure that whatever we do doesn’t hurt more than it helps,” Chomiak said. “We’re waiting on the direction from the federal government.”
To quickly recap events this week, the European Union signed a political association agreement with Ukrainian officials — an echo of the economic agreement that was abandoned by former president Viktor Yanukovych in November, which started months of public protests — just as Putin hailed the incorporation of Crimea into Russia and signed parliamentary bills into law to seal the peninsula’s annexation.
Reaction from the West has come in the form of swift condemnation of Russia’s intrusion in the region as an illegal territory grab, with both Canada and the United States calling for economic sanctions against Russia. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will even spend a few hours in Kyiv this weekend, becoming the first leader of a G7 nation to visit the country since Yanukovych was driven out by pro-western demonstrators last month.
The Tory PM is expected to make the case for a united G7 front against the Russians during an emergency meeting early next week. By itself, Canadian political and economic influence on Putin’s actions would be negligible. As a middle power, we simply don’t wield the kind of necessary might and trade influence that would make Putin reconsider his interests in Ukraine.
In this particular case, we support Harper’s efforts to achieve a united front of world leaders. With 1.2 million Canadians claiming Ukrainian descent, not only does it make political sense for the Tories to act, our large Ukrainian community gives Canada some credibility at the G7 table.
No doubt, politicians on the provincial level in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which both have sizable Ukrainian populations, have made a similar calculation — opportunism. That’s the only explanation we can think of, for we’re not sure what good will be derived from taking three minor Russian products off store shelves.
Manitoba’s liquor stores currently carry just three products made in Russia: Black Stallion Vodka, Russian Standard Vodka and Baltika No. 7 beer.
With dozens of other beer and vodka choices available in Manitoba — including Russian-sounding brands like Smirnoff (British-owned) or Stolichnaya (technically from Latvia) — it’s unlikely that a ban will make much of a difference to local residents.
It would be merely a symbolic gesture by our governments to support the Ukrainian people. Cynics that we are, we understand the reasoning. But who in Russia will be paying attention? The spirit makers, perhaps. Putin? Not so likely.
And vodka? Could they have picked a more stereotypical Russian product? What’s next on the banned list? Cossack dancers?
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 22, 2014