Lawyers representing the Russian vodka company Soyuzplodimport (SPI) are to appeal to the US Congress sub committee on trade today in regards to its battle with the Russian government for the trademark right to the world's largest vodka Stolichnaya.

Richard Edlin a partner in the law firm Greenberg Traurig and counsel to SPI will call on Congress to deny the Russian state "normalization of trade," until it "is willing to be a reliable member of the world economic community, and that it is willing to respect internationally accepted principles of free trade, free markets, and private enterprise free from government persecution."

In a transcript of the appeal, obtained by just drinks, Edlin says: "SPI's present problems with the Russian Government, and those of a great many other companies, demonstrate that Russia has not developed a market economy that is reliable in any reasonable manner with respect to protection of property rights, the rule of law, or due process.  Rather, old-fashioned, Soviet-era corruption and the tactics of intimidation and threats are all too often the governing principles of the Russian economy."

SPI is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the Russian Ministry of Agriculture for the rights to Stolichnaya and a number of other Russian vodka brands.

SPI purchased the rights to Stolichnaya and the other vodkas in 1997 for US$300,000. However, the Russian state has been trying to retrieve them almost ever since, claiming the body that sold the rights had no legal right to do so.

The Ministry has also disputed the price paid, saying Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya alone were worth $400m. The battle has since escalated, with the Ministry blocking exports of Stolichnaya from the port of Kaliningrad bound for the US and UK. And it has also backed deals between other Russian vodka producers and an alternative distributor in the US to SPI's partner Allied Domecq, for supplies of an "alternative" Stoli.

For its part SPI argues that the privatisation of the brands was completely above board. "SPI is the legal, registered owner of the Stolichnaya trademark in over 150 countries. The key issue is the unlawful attempt by the Russian Ministry of Agriculture to renationalise a company that was legally privatised over a decade ago. It is nothing more than an asset grab by the ministry," Andrey Skurikhin, president of SPI-Russia recently told