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A lager for the chief spy: Why Moscow shops still sell Lithuanian beer that “left Russia” and its connection to foreign intelligence

Although beer is not on the list of sanctioned goods, several European producers pledged to withdraw from the Russian market as a show of solidarity with Ukraine. Despite making a similar commitment, Volfas Engelman, a Lithuanian beer producer, failed to follow through on its promise, as discovered by The Insider. Moreover, reports suggest that the SVR (Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service) is procuring Lithuanian beer as part of a state order.

This investigation was conducted in collaboration with Siena/OCCRP

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Russian supermarkets have limited availability of authentic imported beers, but one of the exceptions is Volfas Engelman, a Lithuanian company that is a part of the Finnish group Olvi. Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, Olvi pledged to halt exports to Russia. However, a year later, The Insider verified that Volfas Engelman's products are still on sale in Moscow and other areas.

In April 2023, Volfas beer produced in November 2022 was on sale in stores in the capital, that is, eight months after Olvi promised to leave Russia.

LSV Trade LLC is the supplier of Lithuanian beer to Pyatyorochka stores, but the company has undergone a change in ownership from Lithuanian citizen Linas Motskunas to Russian Dmitry Kononenko. However, there are other importers of Volfas Engelman's beer into Russia, including Pintaklab, Interbeer, Rusbeer 2006, Sommelier, MTM-Service, and Lyukat-Pekarni, as per ImportGenius data from February of last year. Pintaklab is also a provider of alcoholic beverages to FKP “Yasen”, which is managed by the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation (SVR). The SVR has reportedly purchased Volfas Engelman's beer as well, according to auction documentation.

Since 2016, Pintaklab has been providing beer to intelligence personnel, and the most recent two supply contracts were signed after Olvi's commitment to cease cooperation with Russia - on April 22, 2022, and February 19, 2023. Notably, both contracts included Volfas Engelman's products in the list of items supplied.

The Federal State Enterprise Yasen takes its name from the Moscow neighborhood of Yasenevo, where the headquarters of the SVR is situated. It is one of the economic entities affiliated with the intelligence agency, engaged in the sale of old properties through tenders, as well as the purchasing of various items such as alcoholic beverages, meat, tea, cakes, and other groceries.

“Volfas Engelman does not export its products to Russia”, the Lithuanian company assures and suggests that the presence of their beer in the country may be due to parallel imports. “Since beer is not a sanctioned product, it is widely available in the market and can be resold without the producer's knowledge.”

Dominykas Biržietis / Kas Vyksta Kaune
Dominykas Biržietis / Kas Vyksta Kaune

Previously, Volfas Engelman beer was directly imported into Russia, but now intermediaries such as the Lithuanian companies UAB Lukritma and UAB Laudare are utilized. However, it is worth noting that the Russian counterparties remain the same. This additional link in the supply chain appears to have been introduced to minimize the political risks for the producer.

From the end of February to August 30, 2022, a total of 8,475 tons of Volfas products from Lithuania were delivered to Russia, which roughly translates to 7 million liters of beer. This means that Russia is receiving over a million liters of Lithuanian beer every month.

According to Volfas Engelman, they have started printing the outlines of the map of Ukraine (including Crimea) on their beer cans as a “preventive measure” for the Russian market. However, The Insider's reporters have not yet been able to find any products with such symbols in stores in Moscow.

Other companies from various countries, such as Olvi Grupp A. Le Coq AS from Estonia, Kappa Company from Moldova, SIA Prodea New from Latvia, Redfood from the Czech Republic, and Portwinestyle and BIKS TRADE from Serbia, also supply Volfas beer to Russia. Some of these companies are owned by Russians, such as Yuri Popov, who is a shareholder of Prodea New, and Valery Ipatov, who has both Russian and Portuguese citizenship and founded Portwinestyle in Serbia in April 2022 to immediately start exporting Lithuanian beer to Russia. This suggests that an intermediary may have been deliberately introduced for “parallel exports”.

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