A convoy of some 550 vehicles transporting an estimated 10,000 tons of pure alcohol, apparently to be unloaded in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz, was stopped at the border between Georgia and the Russian Federation on July 29. According to Russian border service officials, weapons, including anti-tank missiles, were fired by the convoy at border patrol positions, and the fire was returned. A "ceasefire" of sorts was then arranged, and the convoy remained halted at the border pending the assessment of "full" customs and excise duties by the Russian border and fiscal authorities. (Russian agencies, AP, July 29, 30)
The news surrounding the convoy offers some revealing insights into the underground production and trafficking of alcohol in the CIS. According to border officials, the convoy was organized by leaders of the "underground vodka business" based in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Vladikavkaz. They offered to pay each driver $100 per day and 5 million rubles ($860) upon delivery of their cargo in North Ossetia. At least one of the convoy drivers offered border officials a $1 million bribe for safe passage. While the bribe was apparently refused, Russian agencies did report that border officials confiscated $174,000, as well as an undisclosed quantity of firearms, from the convoy. Remarks made to Russian journalists by Col. Gen. Vladimir Rusleyev, commander of the special Caucasus border unit, strongly suggest that this was not the first such convoy encountered by the border service, and that the service had itself developed intelligence about the "underground vodka business." The convoy, which apparently originated in the Black Seaport of Poti, seemed to traverse much of Georgia without encountering great difficulties. Moreover, according to press reports, the convoy was traveling along a south Ossetian military road when it arrived at the Russian border. This would suggest that the Georgian authorities continue to experience difficulties in gaining full control over their transportation and military infrastructures.
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