Distillery Launches Putin-Brand Vodka

V I L N I U S, Lithuania, Sept. 15, 2000 -- Putin Vodka hit liquor stores today in what some are calling a clever marketing ploy that capitalizes on the name of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The vodka, produced by the ex-Soviet republic’s Alita distillery, features a label in white, blue and red — the colors of Russia’s flag. “Putin” is emblazoned in large white letters.

A bottle of Putin costs $7 — a little less than most top-end vodkas in Lithuania.

Alita spokesman Vilmantas Peciura maintained the brand wasn’t meant to refer to the Russian president. He said it derived from “putinas,” a tree with red berries found in Lithuania, although the vodka reportedly is clear and not flavored.

Publicity With Every Denial

But many people scoffed at the denial.

“What a brilliant idea,” said Tautvydas Musteikis of Gray Advertising. “They’ve received tremendous publicity and are getting more attention with every denial of the Russian link.”

Since Lithuania broke with the Soviet Union in 1991, relations with Russia have sometimes been strained. Many Lithuanians have expressed suspicion about Putin’s past work for the Soviet secret police, saying he can’t be trusted.

The new vodka now is sold only in Lithuania, though the distillery said it may decide to export it later, perhaps to Russia.

Russian Embassy spokesman Boris Kirilov said he knew about the vodka and said he didn’t think Russians would be offended by it.

Putin, a judo champion in his youth, is said to drink little.