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Though oil money is plentiful in post-Soviet Russia, little of that cash trickles down to most of the nation’s nearly 142 million citizens. Russians have long been known for love of the drink, and with about 19 million Russians now living below the poverty line, struggles with drugs and alcohol are on the rise. According to a 2010 Kremlin Advisory Panel, alcoholism in Russia has gotten so bad that 500,000 people die annually from diseases, crimes, and accidents related to alcohol. For men, who tend to guzzle more than women, the average life expectancy in Russia is now a wildly premature 60.
The Russian government has tried lots of things to combat alcoholism over the years, from taking vodka off store shelves to, most recently, ramping up the price of vodka. Nothing has worked. Now President Dmitry Medvedev is taking his attention off liquor and turning it toward beer. By order of a new law, beer is now considered an alcoholic beverage in Russia. Sound crazy? Allow us to explain.