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Which Russia-related products should you boycott?

Mikhail Fridman has stepped down from the board of Holland & Barrett parent company L1 Retail - Shutterstock
Mikhail Fridman has stepped down from the board of Holland & Barrett parent company L1 Retail - Shutterstock

When Rosa Parks refused to let a white man sit in her seat on a bus in 1955, she sparked a mass boycott of Montgomery City Lines, costing the bus operator hundreds of thousands of dollars and eventually bringing about an end to segregated seating.

Could Britons boycotting Russian products be as powerful in bringing an end to the invasion of Ukraine? Certainly, many people are saying that it doesn’t feel right to buy Russian at the moment.

And now a spokesperson for pub chain JD Wetherspoon has announced that it is stopping the sale of a Russian beer called Baltika lager – brewed in Vladimir Putin’s home city of St Petersburg – on its premises. The spokesperson explained: “In light of the situation in Ukraine we just felt that we could not stock it any more.”


Wetherspoon’s action is just the latest move in a spontaneous global decision. From Finland to New Zealand, consumers are reportedly already boycotting Russian vodka.

But shunning hard liquor or a bottle of beer is just one way people can use their pockets to voice displeasure to the Kremlin. According to the United Nations Comtrade database on international trade, Britain’s Russian imports totalled £18.3 billion in 2020, ranging from precious stones to aluminium, iron and steel.

“In terms of the rhinoceros skin of Putin,” says Clive Owen, a consumer analyst at investment group Shore Capital, “I’m not sure whether he’ll be worried whether Brits stop buying the finest brand of caviar or vodka.

“But collectively, time will tell whether all these things add up to something that’s a better outcome for everybody.”

Multinational companies are effectively starting a reverse boycott, too, by removing their goods for sale in Russia. Ikea has led the way, with fashion companies Burberry, Asos, H&M and BooHoo, and music streaming service Spotify joining in. Also leaving Russia are Jaguar Land Rover, JCB, HSBC, BP and Shell. And Muscovites are finding they can no longer use their Mastercard or Visa payment systems.

But boycotting Russian goods here is not as straightforward as it may initially seem. For starters, many brands that might appear quintessentially Russian at face value have long been absorbed into global corporations. While Smirnoff vodka originated in 19th century Russia, for example, the company is actually owned by British spirits giant Diageo, and is manufactured in Illinois, US.

So from energy to pensions, how can you use your own personal spending power to make Putin pay?

Food & drink

Russia is one of the world’s leading caviar producers with brands such as Oscietra caviar and Siberian caviar. While Smirnoff no longer has any ties to Moscow, Britain still consumes plenty of bona fide Russian spirits. UK imports such as Russian Standard Vodka, JJ Whitley Vodka and Beluga Noble Russian Vodka amounted to approximately £16 million in 2021.

Russian-produced raw materials also end up in a number of everyday products. Last September, Budweiser struck a deal with aluminium giant Rusal, owned by oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to supply ultra-low carbon beer cans.

Marketing experts say that consumer pressure on major brands like Budweiser, forcing them to change their supply chain practices, is one way of targeting Russian companies.

“Boycotts generally work by upsetting investors and causing long term reputational harm,” says Adrian Palmer, head of marketing and reputation at Henley Business School. “It’s much more nuanced than simply stopping sales.”

Cosmetics & health

Exerting financial pressure on powerful Russian oligarchs is thought to be one way of attempting to force Putin to reconsider. UK high street chain Holland & Barrett is owned by L1 Retail, a group controlled by billionaire Mikhail Fridman. Fridman has stepped down from the board after being placed on the EU sanctions list and his assets frozen. He has condemned the war but not, so far, Putin himself.

Holland & Barrett is keen to make it clear where the company stands, though, with a spokesperson saying: “Our thoughts are with those affected by the situation in Ukraine. We are a UK registered company that has grown over the last 150 years from one store in the UK to over 1,600 stores and operations in 19 countries around the world.

“We are not affected by any sanctions, nor do we expect to be. Our focus, as always, is on supporting the wellness of our colleagues and customers.”

Russia has a surprising presence in the UK healthcare market in general, largely through the company Natura Siberica Group, which was owned until last year by the late cosmetics tycoon Andrei Trubnikov, whose first wife Irina is now the majority shareholder. The corporation owns global brands Natura Siberica and Organic Kitchen, which produce a range of natural and organic skincare products such as moisturisers, shampoo and anti-ageing serums. However, while Irina Trubnikov is a Russian national, and some of the products come from Siberian farms, the company is based in Estonia and has sought to distance itself from the current crisis.


While hydrocarbons are one of Russia’s main exports, Britain relies on Russia to supply only a small fraction of its gas. But despite this, there is no real way for individuals to ensure its gas does not power or heat their home. All suppliers pool their energy before it is delivered to households via the National Grid.

However, homeowners can help cut Britain's reliance on gas imports in general by choosing an energy supplier that invests in domestic renewable production. Renewable suppliers such as Good Energy and Ecotricity source their energy from renewable generators or invest into renewable infrastructure.

These firms are not protected by the energy price cap, however, making their deals much more expensive than traditional energy tariffs. Good Energy’s standard variable tariff costs £2,230 a year. This is 75 per cent, or £953, more than the cheapest traditional deals


Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov owns the instant messaging service Telegram - Chris Ratcliffe
Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov owns the instant messaging service Telegram - Chris Ratcliffe

Russia is particularly specialised in specific tech sectors – for example, cyber security. “There’s a certain irony in this as the Russians are also the source of the vast majority of cyber crime,” says Owen.

Moscow-based cloud services and digital privacy provider Kaspersky Lab is Russia’s leading information technology company. It supplies anti-virus and anti-malware software to a mixture of individual consumers and major organisations, helping protect against ransomware and other cyber attacks.

According to commercial data provider Dun and Bradstreet, its London headquarters currently generates around £91.1 million in annual sales. There has long been speculation about ties between founder Eugene Kaspersky and the Putin government, although he has consistently denied these claims.

Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov owns the instant messaging service Telegram, which is widely billed as an alternative to WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and other social media channels, and has grown rapidly in the UK over the last two years. According to consumer data specialist Statista, the number of UK downloads of Telegram went from 443,939 in the first quarter of 2020 to over one million in the final quarter of 2021.

However, Telegram is now headquartered in Dubai and Durov, who was once dubbed ‘Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg’, has distanced himself from the Russian government. He fled the country in 2013, after being ousted from another social network, Vkontakte, which he created in 2006. In recent years, Russian telecoms companies have repeatedly tried and failed to block Telegram within Russia after Durov refused to introduce a workaround that would allow the Kremlin to eavesdrop on encrypted messages.


DIY investors may want to ensure that none of their money is invested in Russian companies. While there are some funds that specialise solely in Russia – for example, JPMorgan Russian Securities – data from investment trust analyst Winterflood shows that there are around 20 investment trusts that have exposure to Russia as part of their holdings. Barings Emerging EMEA Opportunities and Fidelity Emerging Markets had the most sizeable stakes with 28.3 per cent and 17.1 per cent of its portfolios in Russian assets at the beginning of 2022.

Some emerging market funds have investment positions in Russia, such as Baillie Gifford Emerging Markets Leading Companies, GQG Partners Emerging Markets Equity and Invesco Responsible Emerging Market Innovators Equity, which have weightings of 9.5 per cent, 8.6 per cent and 8.3 per cent. However, the majority of funds in this sector have very little exposure to the Russian market.

Savers in investment funds can check a fund's factsheet for a geographical breakdown of their assets. You can find a fund’s factsheet via your broker, or directly on their website, often listed under ‘key documents’.

It may still be unclear whether the fund has any holdings in Russia, especially if they have included a vague ‘other’ category. As an investor you are entitled to know where your savings are being kept, so contact the investment company behind the fund to ask. Fundhouses will have a dedicated investor services team, usually with an email address and often a phone number.


The main shareholder in TUI, the world’s largest tour operator, is Alexey Mordashov, one of Putin’s major allies and one of several individuals being directly threatened with sanctions by the EU. The company is already believed to be under pressure because of Mordashov’s stance over the Ukraine conflict and consumer action could increase this further.

TUI Group spokesman Kuzey Alexander Esener has attempted to play down Mordashov’s connection to the company, instead emphasising how it is headquartered in Germany. “He [Mordashov] only has a 34 per cent stake; 66 per cent of the company belongs to shareholders from the EU, the US funds, as well as private investors,” says Esener.

“The company’s business is managed by the executive board in a German public limited company. Shareholders exercise their rights in the annual AGM. In this respect, we do not see any impact on the company and the operational business.”

TUI is believed to be under pressure due to Alexey Mordashov's connections with the company - Alamy
TUI is believed to be under pressure due to Alexey Mordashov's connections with the company - Alamy

These are also uncertain times for a number of high profile oligarchs who own UK football clubs. Chelsea supremo Roman Abramovich, who has long had close links to Putin, has already announced the handing over of the “stewardship and care” of the club to the trustees of its charitable foundation, and has since announced he is selling the club.

Scrutiny is also being directed towards petrochemicals magnate Maxim Demin who owns AFC Bournemouth, and Uzbek-born Russian citizen Alisher Usmanov who is a close associate of Everton owner Farhad Moshiri. Usmanov’s company USM Holdings sponsors Everton’s training ground, a link that has come under increasing criticism after the EU made the decision to freeze Usmanov’s assets.

Jewellery & luxury

Russia is a major exporter of gold, selling more than £13.7 billion of it in 2020 alone, according to the United Nations’ trade database. Its global exchange means that some of this gold may have ended up in your jewellery box. In 2019, Russia exported more than £74.6 million in jewellery across the world, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

If you are looking to buy jewellery or bullion and concerned that it may have links to Russia, it is best to contact the seller. They will be able to dig further back into a particular product’s supply chain than you can by yourself. If you have already bought a jewellery item and you are concerned that the metal may originate from Russia, you might be able to sell it or exchange it with your retailer for a better deal, as the price of gold has moved up 5 per cent since the start of the year.

Russian companies such as the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St Petersburg also export a number of products to luxury department stores such as Harrods and Selfridges.