The US Helsinki Commission is charged with monitoring human rights compliance in the former Soviet Union. But on August 2, the commission took a break from its routine responsibilities to examine the thorny issue of alcoholism in Russia.
Russians’ capacity for drink is legendary. During the hearing, titled US-Russian Cooperation in the Fight against Alcoholism, one of the witnesses, Heidi Brown, an analyst at Kroll Associates, tried to quantify the impact of spirits on Russian society. The numbers she proffered were alarming: half-a-million deaths each year in Russia are alcohol-related, and approximately half of all male deaths in Russia are in some way connected to excessive alcohol consumption. In addition, a whopping 2.3 billion liters of vodka are sold every year in Russia, a country with a current estimated population of 142 million.
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Richard Weitz is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.