Vodka used to be worth 40% of the Russian government's revenue in the late 19th century. More than 100 years later, although it's now more just a source of national pride than an income-driver, it's where LGBT activists have decided to hit the country where it hurts.

Gay rights in Russia have come in for constant criticism. Two years ago, a number of regions banned the "propaganda" of homosexuality to minors, under the age of 18. Just last week, four Dutch tourists were arrested for breaching the ban, though later released.

Gay pride participants were badly beaten during clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St Petersburg last month, with Russian police arresting dozens of people.

russia gay rights

A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag as she takes part in a gay pride event in St Petersburg

The call for a boycott of two premium Russian vodka brands, Stolichnaya and Russian Standard, came from prominent sex blogger Dan Savage.

Savage reasoned that there would be no impact if the LGBT community announced a boycott of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia,

"Most of us weren't planning to go to the Olympic games in Russia this winter, of course, so we wouldn't be able to participate in a boycott if one got off the ground," he wrote.

"And there are good arguments to be made against boycotting the Olympics in Sochi. Outsports opposes a boycott. And Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project, an organization for gay athletes and their straight allies, makes a solid argument against a boycott."

But a vodka boycott was something that he could be a part of, he reasoned: "To show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and straight allies in Vladimir Putin's increasingly fascistic Russia: dump Russian vodka."

Six bars in Chicago have since announced they will stop selling Russian vodka, and a seventh bar said it had withdrawn Stolichnaya, according to Windy City Times.

Although Russian Standard vodka, owned by Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko has declined to comment on the boycott, Stolichnaya's owners the SPI group wrote a strong response, condemning the stance of the Russian government.

The letter, published bu chief executive Val Mendeleev said: "The recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community and the passionate reaction of the community have prompted me to write this letter to you.

"I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions. Indeed, as a company that encourages transparency and fairness, we are upset and angry.

"Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be an fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community."

The brand, reputedly a favourite of Russian politicians including Vladimir Putin, is headquartered in Luxembourg and produced in Latvia, though using Russian ingredients.

"Facts found online that often inaccurately link our company to the Russian Government," Mendeleev wrote. "The Russian government has no ownership interest or control over the Stoli brand that is privately owned by SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg in the heart of Western Europe."

"We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia. In the past decade, SPI has been actively advocating in favour of freedom, tolerance and openness in society, standing very passionately on the side of the LGBT community and will continue to support any effective initiative in that direction."

On its Facebook page, the company posted a rainbow Pride banner with the words: "Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong and proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government."

The International Olympic Committee announced on Friday that it had received confirmation from Russian officials that anti-LGBT legislation “will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

“The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games," the organising body said in a statement.

“This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi. As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media.

“The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle.”

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  • FILE - Riot police guard gay rights activists who were beaten by anti-gay protesters during an authorized gay rights rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, in this Saturday, June 29, 2013 file photo. Earlier in the year, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that will impose hefty fines for holding gay pride rallies or providing information about the gay community to minors. Amid a surge of anti-gay violence and repression in several countries, the United Nations’ human rights office on Friday, July 26, 2013 launched its first global outreach campaign aimed at promoting more tolerance and greater equality for lesbians, gays, transgender people and bisexuals. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

  • Gay rights activists hold a banner reading "Homophobia - the religion of bullies" during their action in protest at homophobia, on Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, July 14, 2013. Police detained several gay activists. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman)

  • Maxim Lysak, Jury Gavrikov

    FILE - In this Saturday, June 29, 2013 file photo, riot police (OMON) officers detain gay rights activists Maxim Lysak and Jury Gavrikov during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia. As the hub of the Soviet Union, Russia was reviled for rights abuses by many U.S. conservatives during the Cold War. Now some are voicing support and admiration as Russian authorities crack down on gay-rights activism. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

  • Riot police (OMON) guard gay rights activists who have been beaten by anti-gay protesters during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Gay rights activists shout slogans during their authorized rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Riot police (OMON) guard gay rights activists who have been beaten by anti-gay protesters during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Riot police (OMON) walk past sunbathers after an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Maxim Lysak, Jury Gavrikov

    Riot police (OMON) officers detain gay rights activists Maxim Lysak and Jury Gavrikov during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Riot police (OMON) officers detain gay rights activists during their authorized rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • An anti-gay protester, center, fights with gay rights activists during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Anti-gay protesters shout slogans at gay right activists during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • RUSSIA-GAY-RIGHTS-DEMO

    Gay rights activists take part in a gay pride event in Saint Petersburg on June 29, 2013. Russian police arrested dozens of people on June 29 after clashes erupted in the city of Saint Petersburg between pro- and anti-gay demonstrators. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Jury Gavrikov

    Riot police (OMON) officers detain gay rights activist Jury Gavrikov during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • RUSSIA-GAY-RIGHTS-DEMO

    Gay rights activists take part in a gay pride event in Saint Petersburg on June 29, 2013. Russian police arrested dozens of people on June 29 after clashes erupted in the city of Saint Petersburg between pro- and anti-gay demonstrators. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • RUSSIA-GAY-RIGHTS-DEMO

    Anti-gay demonstrators gather on the sidelines of a gay pride event in Saint Petersburg on June 29, 2013. Russian police arrested dozens of people on June 29 after clashes erupted in the city of Saint Petersburg between pro- and anti-gay demonstrators. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • RUSSIA-GAY-RIGHTS-DEMO

    Gay rights activists embrace each other after clashes with anti-gay demonstrators during a gay pride event in St. Petersburg on June 29, 2013. Russian police arrested dozens of people on Saturday after clashes erupted in the city of Saint Petersburg between pro- and anti-gay demonstrators. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • RUSSIA-GAY-RIGHTS-DEMO

    Russian riot police detain gay rights activists during a gay pride event in St. Petersburg on June 29, 2013. Russian police arrested dozens of people on Saturday after clashes erupted in the city of Saint Petersburg between pro- and anti-gay demonstrators. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • RUSSIA-GAY-RIGHTS-DEMO

    Russian riot police detain gay rights activists during a gay pride event in St. Petersburg on June 29, 2013. Russian police arrested dozens of people on Saturday after clashes erupted in the city of Saint Petersburg between pro- and anti-gay demonstrators. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)