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The Massandra winery in Crimea.
The Massandra winery in Crimea.
Oleg Trutnev, Aleksandra Mertsalova, Ekaterina Gerashenko and Anna Pushkarskaya

MOSCOW — During a recent meeting with a who’s-who of Russian retailers and grocery chains, Moscow’s regional investment minister was talking wine. The idea is simple: to urge such companies to promote Crimean wine as a way to boost the economy of Russia's newest region.

Such measures are necessary because Ukraine has blocked Crimean wines from its stores since the peninsula joined Russia, says Mikhail Shtirlin, general director of Crimean Legend, an alcohol distributor specializing in Crimean wines. That, in turn, has led to hard times for Crimean wine producers. Although their products are sold in Moscow supermarkets, they are not sold elsewhere in Russia, making sales in the Russian capital essential for Crimean winemakers.

Moscow officials are already working to improve the presence of Crimean wines in the city’s grocery stores, says Aleksei Nemeryuk, head of trade and services in Moscow’s city government. “We recently finished a series of meetings with retailers, in which they agreed to support our new region,” he says.

He hopes retailers will run special promotions, create special sections or shelves for Crimean wine, and host wine tastings to encourage shoppers to try the products. The city is also considering giving Crimean farmers free space to sell their products at the seasonal Christmas markets, he says.

The government in St. Petersburg has been holding similar talks with retailers, says Elgiz Kachaev, a representative of the city’s business development committee. “We can’t force the retailers to do anything, but we had a good dialogue with the chain retailers, and they will probably help us out,” Kachaev says. He says the the St. Petersburg government would try to create the best possible conditions to launch Crimean wine on the city’s market.

Gérard Depardieu visits the Massandra winery — Photo: Massandra Wine UK

According to customs statistics, Ukraine was the fourth-largest wine importer to Russia in 2013. And of that, experts estimate that Crimean wine probably constituted 75% of the total that Ukraine imported to its neighbor.

The privilege of special promotions or separate shelves devoted to a specific product is usually something that producers pay for. “These kinds of expenses can amount to 20% to 30% of the total cost of the final product for wine makers,” says Pavel Titov, director of Abray-Durso, one of Russia’s best-known winemakers.

The public relations director at supermarket chain Dixie says the government’s recommendations are feasible. “They are already partially being put in place in the Dixie stories around Moscow,” she says. “We are creating a special display of the eight largest Crimean wine producers.”

The chain Azbuka Vkusa, which was among those participating in talks with the government, hasn’t previously sold Crimean wine, but it is now promising to stock it. The company’s director says there has been a clear demand for Crimean wine recently, and that he would consider running special promotions. Shtirlin says that as the crisis in Crimea has unfolded over recent weeks, sales of wines from the region have increased by 30% to 40% in Russia.

Vadim Drobiz, director of the Center for Federal and Regional Alcohol Market Research, says this is a movement with an enormous amount of muscle behind it. “Supporting Crimean wine is a political decision, so retailers don’t have much choice,” he says.

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At the Russia-Georgia border

Yelena Afonina/TASS via ZUMA
Anna Akage, Sophia Constantino, Bertrand Hauger, Chloe Touchard and Emma Albright

Russia’s neighbors — from Finland in the west to Mongolia 3,100 miles (5,076 km) to the east — are being flooded with the arrival of men fleeing the national draft announced last week as Moscow's invasion of Ukraine falters. Some 2,000 miles to the south of Helsinki, at the border with Georgia, there are reports of long lines of cars and bicycles trying to leave and Russian crackdowns on men trying to flee.

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In the first two days after Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization, 261,000 men of conscription age have left the country. Observers believe that has likely doubled since. The most popular destinations are the neighboring countries where one can enter without a visa or even without an international passport, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.

But Finland too has reported a major uptick, with nearly 19,000 arriving, compared to 9,000 crossing in the opposite direction. "The arrival rate is about double what it was a week ago," Mert Sasioglu of the Finnish border guard told AFP.

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