Russia Revives Stoli-nism

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How does a stricken Russian government restore its liquidity? Nationalize vodka, of course. That may sound like a bad Russian joke, but in fact it was the first concrete economic measure announced by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. "By restoring the Soviet-era state monopoly on the alcohol industry, they hope to get as much hard currency as possible into state coffers," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "The problem is there's little chance that they have the infrastructure to enforce it." The state machinery required to police liquor distribution is in disarray, while the Russian underworld -- which has a huge stake in the market -- is stronger than ever.

But even a liquor monopoly couldn't save Russia's cash-strapped government, which is why the central bank's printing presses continue to roll. The government refuses to disclose how many rubles have been churned out, but with the monthly inflation rate at 67 percent and rising, Russia looks set for another season of hyperinflation. In the face of a hemorrhaging ruble, Primakov has promised to look out for the needs of the poor; seizing the vodka supply may be the best way he knows of doing that.