Putin Secretly Made Millions From 'President’s Vodka,' Investigation Reveals
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‘You Have No Idea How Much Money This Is’: Putin Secretly Made Millions From ‘President’s Vodka,’ Investigation Reveals

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes a drink during a receiving credentials ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. (Photo: Krill Kudryavtsev/Pool photo via AP)

An investigation published by independent media outlet Proekt reveals how Russian President Vladimir Putin may have discreetly made millions of dollars from a well-known vodka brand bearing his own name.

Sourcing inspiration from a nameless Soviet vodka, cheap vodka brand Putinka first debuted in 2002 by spirits company Winexim, per Proekt. During the spirits’ inception, Winexim’s co-owner Oleg Plakhuta reached out to Putin’s friend, Arkady Rotenberg, for permission from the president to use his name — and succeeded, according to the report.

Putin and Rotenburg then became co-owners of the brand, allowing the two control over the vodka’s earnings, from trademark rights to production and trade, according to the investigation.

By 2005, the brand was selling over 40 million liters annually. Proekt reported that during this time, Russia experienced a peak in alcohol-related deaths.

During the vodka’s height of success, distributors interested in selling Putinka brought Rotenburg bags full of cash, with some of that money being “always intended for Putin,” an unnamed source informed Proekt.

“You have no idea how much money this is,” the source added.

From 2004 to 2019, the brand earned somewhere between $400 million and $500 million from its production, royalties and sales, per Proekt. It is unknown exactly how much of this money went to Putin.

While Putinka’s brand changed owners multiple times over the years, companies controlled by or connected to either Rotenberg or Putin remained in charge, per Proekt.

In March 2004, an unassuming company called PromImpex acquired Putinka’s trademark rights. According to the report, managers associated with Rotenberg’s SMPBank were among the directors of the company.

Then, in 2014, a Russian subsidiary of Ermira Consultants named Real-Invest became the owner of Putinka, reported Proekt. Ermira Consultants is a Cyprus-based offshore company fronted by an unspecified businessman whose “real owner is Putin,” according to a Proekt source. It was noted that Real-Invest received royalties for the use of the vodka’s trademark from Kristall, a Moscow-based alcohol factory controlled by Rotenberg’s people.

Baikal-Invest, also reported by Proekt to be controlled by Rotenberg’s people, received the rights to the Putinka brand in 2020.

According to Proekt, Putin played a role in ensuring the success of the “president’s vodka.” In 2015, the minimum retail price of vodka dropped from the equivalent of $3.10 to $2.60 per half a liter, a decision that benefited Russian producers of cheap vodka by driving sales.

“Illegal vodka, all sorts of surrogates, alcoholic beverages of this kind, are the result of a certain overpricing of legal products,” Putin said in a meeting with the State Council, while not disclosing his own personal interest in cheap vodka, Proekt reported.

In 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Putinka range was rebranded with Z-symbols, which correspond to military symbols used in the war.

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Candie Getgen is the managing editor for Gin Raiders. Before immersing herself in the world of spirits journalism, Candie has been many things: a bartender, a literary journal editor, an English teacher — and even a poet. Now, Candie shares her passion for gin with the world and hopes to help others fall in love with it, too (if they haven't already!). When not writing, Candie enjoys sipping an extra-dry martini while painting or relaxing by the pool with a thrilling mystery novel.