Zhirinovsky: First Venom, Now Vodka

PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS IN the U.S. use buttons and bumper stickers. In Russia, maverick pol Vladimir Zhirinovsky is peddling his own name-brand vodka as a campaign gimmick. A member of Parliament best known for his vitriolic nationalistic views (example: reclaim Alaska), Zhirinovsky struck a deal with a distillery in Ryazan to churn out 70,000 bottles monthly of Russia's favorite spirit. The vodka, sold in kiosks throughout Moscow, has a label bearing his stern visage.

He needs something to galvanize his troubled bid to unseat President Boris Yeltsin, a noted vodka consumer. Zhirinovsky, whose poll ratings are down lately, plans a campaign swing along the Volga River in July, promising everyone access to good, cheap vodka.

Well, cheap this hooch isn't. A bottle sells for 18,000 rubles (about $4), triple the price of rivals. Result: Zhirinovsky vodka isn't selling well, say many kiosk vendors. Nikolai Lemeshov, a Zhirinovsky aide, says the steep price is needed to cover costs--and that the candidate isn't in it for the money. But Vera Pavlova, the Ryazan distillery's deputy director, says each bottle costs 3,000 rubles to produce, leaving him a healthy profit.

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