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LISTEN: Stoli CEO Discusses Vodka Boycott In New Interview

Stolichnaya-Vodka-print-ads-vodka-236626_331_450Even now, human rights and LGBT advocates are protesting Russian vodka, the chief target of which appears to be Stolichnaya and its parent company, SPI Group. SPI CEO Val Mendeleev has already expressed the company's support of the LGBT community and decried the protests, a statement that was already elicited harsh rebuttals from the likes of Dan Savage and Queer Nation. Mendeleev subsequently seized a recent opportunity to address the boycott again and elaborate on his company's support in an interview with XM Progress

Mendeleev described himself as an "ex-Russian" in the interview, considering that he left the country 20 years ago. He used the same term to describe SPI's owner, Yuri Scheffler, and insisted that they both oppose Russian president Vladimir Putin, as well as the country's anti-gay policies. He maintained that SPI is "not a Russian company," highlighting the fact that the company is headquartered in Luxembourg, and only operates one distillery in Russia. He did admit that the company does use Russian ingredients, However, he said that the company is looking into other sources, but that will unfortunately take time. "We produce more than 100,000 bottles of Stoli every day...It’s not so easy to shift production immediately."

To bolster his arguments, Mendeleev highlighted the fact that Stoli and SPI have been in contest over ownership of the brand for over ten years:

“We were forced to move our headquarters from Russia about 10 years ago. And this is because we have ongoing litigation with the Russian government about the ownership of the brand. So, we’re not a friend of the Russian government. We are not a Russian company. Stoli is not even allowed to be sold in Russia... [The Russian government] did manage to grab up the Russian Stoli brand and they have been trying to grab up the ownership of the global brand. But the international courts in London and Switzerland understand that this commercial dispute with the Russian government has political motives. Yuri Scheffler, in early 2000, when this whole thing started, was supporting political opposition to the new government that was installed there, and that basically started the whole dispute.”

Dump StoliYou can even look at the label, he points out, which now reads "premium" vodka instead of "Russian" vodka, a change that took place in 2007. Mendeleev also used the interview as an opportunity to announce his company's decision to donate money to an unspecified group on behalf of Russian LGBT citizens and their allies. The current anti-gay propaganda law makes it challenging for SPI to simply donate to one or more LGBT organizations, especially since many have been forced to go underground. But, as he points out:

"I’ve been giving interviews, some of them in Russia, emphasizing our position, that we are upset by the lack of tolerance in Russia and the law limiting rights. But at the same time, we’re now analyzing the best way to influence this in Russia. Probably we will identify a global or local charity that knows better than us how to tackle the issue and influence the issue in Russia. And we’ll support it financially.”

Mendeleev also made sure to mention his company's nondiscrimination policy and domestic partner benefits, which he uses to emphasize one final point-- that SPI and Stoli are the true victims in this situation. 

“Stoli has been a friend of the LGBT community and has been an opponent of the Russian government. Stoli was singled out by the community with which we associated in a way that we don’t believe was appropriate. If you look at our relationship with the Russian government, we’ve been boycotted by the Russian government for the past 10 years. We’ve been threatened, raided. And now we are being boycotted by the LGBT community.”

Listen to the full interview (via HuffPost Gay Voices) AFTER THE JUMP...



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  1. So, no one did research about any of this and we're actually hurting an innocent company? How very One Million Moms of us.

    Posted by: yuninv | Jul 31, 2013 1:51:43 PM

  2. No i think the threat of Boycott forced them to make a very serious stand for the Gay community in Russia, I think (though i want to go through this again in case i missed something)they are now back on my shopping list, this response was much better than the last one. Doesn't mean i wont keep an eye on them for the changes he stated they will move forward to, but this was a great response that will be heard by the people in Russia suffering.

    Posted by: Randyowen | Jul 31, 2013 1:56:42 PM

  3. Protest Russian treatment of gays by boycotting a pro-gay company based in Luxembourg--SMH. What more would people have Stoli do?

    Posted by: mad john | Jul 31, 2013 1:58:31 PM

  4. This guy is smart. The spirit section of the alcohol industry, is heavily, if not only, relying on marketing, so public relation and public image are extremely important.

    Posted by: David | Jul 31, 2013 2:01:04 PM

  5. Boycotting Stoli is moronic - wrong target. Boycott legitimate Russian companies. No more Russian caviar for me!

    Posted by: dumbnhung | Jul 31, 2013 2:01:39 PM

  6. To above, Russian caviar is actually (in other parts of the world too) partially coming from China. That is not just because they share the same river origin of the fish but many other countries imported Chinese caviar and relabeled/redistributed as other production sources. The things people do not know and the things people take for truth.

    Posted by: David | Jul 31, 2013 2:04:51 PM

  7. This boycott has seemed a little misdirected and uncreative to me. There has to be something as effective that doesn't harm a company that is barely Russian and has long been LGBT friendly. How about pressuring performers playing Russia to cancel performances or make statements, a la "I ain't gonna play Sun City"?

    Stoli today is not the same as Harvey Milk's Coors.

    Posted by: tranquilo | Jul 31, 2013 2:05:01 PM

  8. they could stop lying about being the victim
    better to spill some vodka than shed blood

    Posted by: Gilbert | Jul 31, 2013 2:08:12 PM

  9. I think they've heard the message (to support Russian LGBT rights), it may be time for an end to their specific boycott. We should see that they live up to their promises of support to LGBT organizations in Russia now. As for the Olympics, that's a whole other much larger problem.

    Posted by: Hey Darlin' | Jul 31, 2013 2:16:39 PM

  10. You mean a bunch of LGBT activists got their knickers in twist and started getting all activisty without doing their homework?



    Some queers would protest the opening of an envelope if they were incited too. Some are just so angry they need a target to vent at.

    Posted by: QJ201 | Jul 31, 2013 2:20:42 PM

  11. I've stopped wearing Russian furs.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 31, 2013 2:22:42 PM

  12. All those attacking Ari for his post yesterday need to read this a second time.

    Posted by: Mikey DallasM | Jul 31, 2013 2:33:01 PM

  13. Well, the boycott has already worked and started an international conversation about the Russian anti-LGBT laws, albeit against what appears to be an innocent company who is trying to sever their ties to the country. Hope this interview gets traction, as they (Stoli) don not deserve this backlash.

    Posted by: AriesMatt | Jul 31, 2013 2:49:46 PM

  14. I love people talking about how the boycott "is working." Never mind that the company never should have been targeted in the first place.

    It sucks to feel powerless about injustice. That doesn't really justify attacking a company that has nothing to do with the injustice, no influence over those who are committing the injustice, and cannot even SELL ITS FREAKING PRODUCT in the country where the injustice is happening.

    Posted by: Dan E | Jul 31, 2013 2:55:19 PM

  15. blame Dan Savage then for not researching

    Savage is the 1 who said boycott them

    Posted by: Moz's | Jul 31, 2013 2:59:39 PM

  16. Why are you confusing us with facts? We simply want to feel self-righteous by boycotting something Russian. Stoli vodka seems Russian, so it's a good target for the boycott.

    Something must be done about the gay rights in Russia. Boycotting Stoli is something. Therefore, it must be done.

    Posted by: AG | Jul 31, 2013 3:03:08 PM

  17. I'm inclined to agree with some of the other commentors here. I thought this particular boycott seemed a little misguided from the beginning.
    The real target should be the olympics, IMO.

    Posted by: Lucas H | Jul 31, 2013 3:15:58 PM

  18. Important story. I will pick up some Stoli today.

    Posted by: Jon | Jul 31, 2013 3:17:14 PM

  19. I'm a gin drinker anyway.

    Posted by: Jack M | Jul 31, 2013 3:25:31 PM

  20. Anyone who's interested in the actual facts about SPI's involvement in Russia can check out the company's website:

    What information will you find there?

    1) Two of SPI's three production facilities are located in Russia (in Perm and Tambov).
    2) The distillery in Tambov is Russia's largest.
    3) SPI is the world's largest exporter of Russian vodka.
    4) While SPI cannot sell Stolichnaya in Russia, it does sell a long list of other vodka brands that it produces in Russia.
    5) The company purchases 85,000 tons of Russian grain per year.
    6) SPI's agricultural subsidiary, Raduga, farms 3,700 hectares of land in Russia.
    7) Besides its production facilities and farmland, SPI has other significant real estate holdings in Russia.

    What won't you find on SPI's website?

    1) The rainbow-colored statement of LGBT solidarity that currently appears on the homepage of
    2) Any record of the company having spoken out against LGBT bigotry (or in favor of equality) in Russia prior to the boycott.
    3) Any indication that employees of SPI and its subsidiaries who work in Russia are covered by a corporate nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
    4) Any indication that same-sex spouses or partners of employees in Russia are eligible for any of the benefits that are available to opposite-sex spouses.

    Posted by: 24play | Jul 31, 2013 3:30:37 PM

  21. sounds like spi benefitted monetarily for years riding the fence, taking advantage of both sides - they worked hard to maintain the illusion of the history and prestige associated with russian vodka, while making subtle changes to their labeling and working through the courts and behind the scenes to distance themselves from the russian government, hoping no one would notice.

    if this is the case, didn't their actions, aimed at maximizing revenue and lowering risk, bring the boycott on themselves?

    Posted by: northalabama | Jul 31, 2013 3:39:42 PM

  22. American components. Russian components. All made in Taiwan!

    Posted by: matt | Jul 31, 2013 3:39:53 PM

  23. For any future doubters in this comment thread, on this site, or in general of the boycott's validity, I refer you to NorthAlabama and 24Play's posts above.

    Posted by: Leo | Jul 31, 2013 3:48:26 PM

  24. This article left out some other facts about SPI - like the fact they sell other brands in Russia and the fact that the CEO was unaware if the company offered domestic benefits in Luxenbourg and Russia. However, that being said, I think at this point there are bigger fish to fry than Stoli - like all those American companies looking to expand their business in Russia.

    Posted by: KT | Jul 31, 2013 4:02:27 PM

  25. God we can be embarrassing sometimes. It doesn't seem to matter that Stoli has uneqivocally voiced support for LGBTs, nevermind that they are not a Russian company. Now we are scouring their website looking for things to be upset about.."there's no rainbow flag on the employee bathroom!". Nevermind there are actual Russian based companies we can target. At this point, we are just trying to justify the fact that our "leaders" (sarcasm) didn't do their due diligence. It makes us look unorganized and silly.

    Posted by: FakeOutrage | Jul 31, 2013 4:06:59 PM

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