New Brunswick

UNB professor says pulling Russian products from shelves is largely symbolic

A University of New Brunswick professor says removing Russian liquor products from store shelves is symbolic, but won't have any significant economic impact in pressuring Russia President Vladimir Putin to back off the invasion of Ukraine.  

'But, from the economic perspective, it is not very meaningful'

Alcool NB Liquor is pulling three variations of Russian Standard vodka. (anbl.com)

A University of New Brunswick professor says removing Russian liquor products from store shelves is symbolic, but won't have any significant economic impact in pressuring Russia President Vladimir Putin to back off the invasion of Ukraine. 

Alcool NB Liquor has announced it will pull Russian-made vodka off its shelves. It sells three variations of the brand Russian Standard.

"That's certainly important symbolically for those of Ukrainian descent who are 1.5 million in Canada right now," said Henryk Sterniczuk.

Sterniczuk immigrated from Poland and spent multiple years working in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan working on democratic reforms related to economics and education.

"But … from the economic perspective, it is not very meaningful."

He said only a tiny fraction of hard liquor imported into Canada comes from Russia.

"From a symbolic political dimension, it is a very important gesture that whatever we can do, we should do to send a message to Russian leadership that we disagree with what they are doing.... But financially, this is not a sanction, which would be terribly painful." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday it would impose sanctions on Putin and his inner circle.

Sterniczuk said there is also meaning for the consumers in signaling that the products are being pulled. But he notes that those products have already been paid for by the time they reach stores.

However, he said there may be longer-term impacts, such as the future of contracts.

Likely the move would more directly hit the profits of those who own brands, such as Russian businessman Roustam Tariko, who owns Russian Standard. 

What would happen, might be a snowball effect where factories in Russia reduce output of alcohol due to lower demand. 

Sterniczuk said Canada should consider action like stopping the import of oil and gas from Russia to truly apply effective pressure. 

"Sanctions are important, but they must be in an important area, not on the margins. They are on the margins at the moment.

"And so they will not change the policy, they simply give the Western leaders a sense of accomplishment."

From the consumer perspective

Fredericton resident Tim Thompson said it was important to reach out to Alcool NB Liquor to ask that products from Russia be pulled.

"I think it signals that Canada as a whole and on the international stage, that we're [in] solidarity with the Ukrainians, and with them fighting for their freedoms.

"It's important for us to ensure that there's no conflict and stay out of war as much as possible across the entire globe.... So whatever we can do peacefully and diplomatically, in order to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine, is extremely important."

Political implications

Opher Baron, a professor of operations management at the University of Toronto, said seeing provincially run liquor boards make this decision is interesting from a political perspective. 

"It is one thing if me, as an end consumer, decides to no longer purchase Russian imported drinks or in general, things that are imported from Russia," said Baron. "And it is another thing to say that a liquor board, which in some provinces are public companies, [is] doing that. So this becomes a political decision."

Bottles of Russian Standard vodka are seen in a LCBO store in Ottawa. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

The liquor boards of all the Maritime provinces, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia are not selling products from Russia due to the situation in Ukraine. 

The Société des alcools du Québec also announced it would be doing so. Initially, the board stated that it would not be removing products as it did not want to make a political statement. 

Baron said other financial ties between the countries should be explored at the federal level.

"I'm more into trying to support Ukrainian products than trying to boycott Russian ones, especially because typically those boycotts will impact the people, not the leaders."

Ultimately, Baron said Canada should prepare a strong refugee policy to help those fleeing from Ukraine. 

"I think that may have a bigger impact on the quality of life for more people."

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