From Booze to Backlash: Virginia Calls For Its Own Russian Sanctions

This is a display of Russian Standard Vodka in a Total Wine and More store in University Park, Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

By Amie Knowles

February 28, 2022

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has called for a series of “decisive actions” against the country.

If you’re looking for certain brands of vodka, you’ll be out of luck in Virginia. Removing Russian vodka from the shelves of ABC Stores is one of the ways the commonwealth chose to deal with Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.

The idea came from Sen. Louise Lucas, a Democrat who represents Portsmouth, and who serves as president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate. She called on Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to make the request of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (VABC).

On Feb. 27, VABC announced the change on Twitter. The public safety agency removed seven Russian-sourced vodka brands from store shelves, including Belugo, Hammer & Sickle, Imperia, Mamont, Organika, Russian Standard, and ZYR.

The removal didn’t impact all “Russian” beverages. Russian-themed brands including Stolichnaya and Smirnoff will still be available because they are not produced in Russia. Stolichnaya is made in NATO-member country Latvia, while Smirnoff is actually made in America, in Illinois

In addition to the vodka removal, Youngkin called for a series of decisive actions against Russia. 

In his call of support for Ukraine on Feb. 26, Youngkin:

  • Asked the Department of General Services to review contracts to see if any state tax dollars were going to goods and services from primarily Russian companies. 
  • Asked the City of Norfolk and the City of Roanoke to end sister city partnerships with Russian cities.
  • Called on the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) Board of Trustees and university endowment funds to divest holdings of the Russian ruble and securities of Russian companies.

The request to end sister city partnerships came with some support and some backlash. Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander requested an end to Norfolk’s relationship with Kaliningrad, Russia, which began in 1992. However, Roanoke Valley Sister Cities, Inc. pushed back, with the group’s president, Mary Jo Fassié, writing a letter to the governor. 

In her letter, Fassié wrote that the group did not get involved in politics or take a political stand on any issue, adding that it was “not the time to tell our friends in Pskov [Russia] that we want to sever our ties with them.”

As for the divestments, VRS Chief Investment Officer Ron Schmitz told the Richmond Times Dispatch that a small portion of the retirement system’s $107 billion trust fund was invested in Russian stocks. He cautioned against selling right now due to a decrease in value of the Russian stock market. 

Meanwhile, Virginians are feeling the effects of the invasion—especially drivers filling up their gas tanks. According to AAA, the average price for regular gas in Virginia on Feb. 28 was $3.43, compared to $3.17 one month prior.

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger—who serves Virginia’s newly redrawn 7th district from Caroline County north to Dale County—called on President Joe Biden to release additional oil from America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“In this moment of crisis, we must demonstrate to Putin the strength of our resolve in response to his war in Ukraine, while also mitigating the effects on everyday American families,” Spanberger said as part of a Twitter post on Feb. 28.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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