Since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and the subsequent controversy surrounding its occupation of Ukraine, the nation's food supply has never really been the same. After being slapped with sanctions from the US and the European Union, Russia opted to ban imports of many foods from those regions, even going so far as to bulldoze literal tons of cheese and other products that were still making their way to Russia's borders last month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been widely criticized for ordering this destruction of mass quantities of food, as well as for denying Russians the imported cheeses, meats, and produce that are no longer available to them due to the bans. And now, Putin is under fire again—this time, for his own consumption of some very old wine.
Ukrainians are furious after Putin was offered, and served, a 240-year-old bottle of wine while touring the Crimean peninsula's Massandra winery this past weekend. Prior to Russia's annexation of the area in March 2014, the winery was owned and operated by the Ukrainian government, and houses a number of rare, centuries-old bottles of wine and sherry.
According to the Associated Press, winery director Yanina Pavlenko popped a bottle of wine for Putin and his friend—Italian media kingpin and politician Silvio Berlusconi—that was from 1775 and considered historically significant. Similar bottles were auctioned in London in 2001 for prices of up to £32,000 (US $49,700) each.
"This is one of the five bottles that constitute not only Massandra's or Crimea's heritage, but the heritage of all Ukrainian people," Nazar Kholodnytsky, first deputy prosecutor for Crimea argued to the Associated Press. "The funds went to the state coffers and supported the development of Massandra and wine-making in Crimea."
A video shown on Russian news stations also depicted Pavlenko answering affirmatively when Berlusconi and Putin ask if it's possible for them to drink an 1891 bottle that they've selected from the dusty collection. However, it's not clear if they opened and consumed it.
During the time the Massandra winery was government-run, two presidential decrees were put in place to protect the sale of vintage wines from the facility's archives. To sell or give away the bottles without presidential permission is officially considered theft, according to the decrees. However, those rules can't currently be applied due to Russia's occupation of the region.
Ukrainian prosecutors plan to charge Pavlenko with embezzlement for the gesture. She is already wanted for treason after voting for Russia's annexation of Crimea last year.
Still no word on what the 240-year-old wine tasted like. Hopefully Pavlenko got a taste—she might need it to take the edge off her pending charges. But it's safe to say she probably didn't enjoy it with some nice French cheese.