Inside The Time Putin Drank A 240-Year-Old Ukrainian Wine And Caused An Uproar

When Russian president, Vladimir Putin, ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine in February of 2022, the action drew strong international condemnation (via NPR). But, though the invasion of Ukraine is perhaps the boldest example of Putin's forceful foreign policy, it's far from the first time he showed aggression toward the region. In March of 2014, Putin actually invaded and annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian territory near the Black Sea (via Britannica). Though Putin argued that the territory rightfully belonged to Russia, the move drew anger from within Ukraine itself and from Western powers as well, according tp The New York Times.

A full military conflict over the Crimean region never came to pass, but there were skirmishes and deaths in the area, as well as protests over the annexation, including one 50,000-person-strong rally in Moscow itself, as France 24 reports. And, even once the initial conflicts died down, Putin continued to draw ire for his actions surrounding Ukrainian and Crimean issues, including in 2015, when the president was accused of unjustly drinking a highly valuable bottle of wine (via The Guardian).

History of the Crimean region

Crimea has a complicated history. First incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1921, Crimea faced collectivization under Russian control (via Britannica). Many people died as a result. Later, the region — which closely borders Ukraine, with much of the Crimean peninsula surrounded by the Black sea — was gifted to Ukraine in 1954. At the time, Ukraine was also part of the Soviet Union, and the transfer, while symbolic, left Crimea still under Russian influence. In fact, it wasn't until the Soviet Union split apart that Crimea came under true Ukrainian ownership.

Crimea is a unique Ukrainian region because of its Russian history, according to Vox. With most Crimean citizens being ethnically Russian, there are significant pro-Russian groups within the country. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, he technically did so at the request of citizens who voted to rejoin Crimea — though this vote, which occurred after the Russian invasion, was likely rigged, as Forbes explains. Still, there are those in the country who wish to remain part of Ukraine, and legally, Russia's claims to Ukraine were not recognized by many Western powers, including the United States (via The New York Times).

The bottle of wine

In September of 2015, it had been more than a year since Russia had annexed Crimea. But, anger popped right back up to the surface when Putin, on a trip to Crimea, decided to sample an expensive bottle of wine (via The Guardian). Traveling with his friend, the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Putin was examining the cellars of a winery when he spotted a bottle of 1775 Jerez de la Frontera wine, as Politico notes. The wine was part of a collection of five bottles first brought to the region in the late 1700s by Count Mikhail Vorontsov, and worth more than $80,000. Putin's companion asked if they could open up the wine. The director of the winery, Yanina Pavlenko, told them that they were allowed to sample the 1891 vintage.

Whether Putin actually drank the wine remains unclear, but either way, he got served up with consequences. Ukrainian prosecutors, incensed by the incident, started an investigation into Putin for theft, with the charge that the wine wasn't his to drink, as The Guardian further explains.

The investigation likely cannot be enforced so long as Putin is still in control in the Crimean region. But, Putin's companion, Berlusconi, at least, faced some tangible consequences: He was banned from Ukraine for three years because of his behavior.