Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union? Part I

Nothing annoys me more than hearing people discuss completely in earnest whether the collapse of the Soviet Union was brought about by Ronald Reagan or by somebody else. Such discussions make just as much sense as trying to figure out whether world peace was achieved by this or some other politician. "Well, there is no world peace," you'd say. Right you are. And there was no collapse of the Soviet Union. Not in any meaningful sense, that is. As to the end of the Cold War, if you seriously think it's over, you need to stop spending so much time listening to the American media and turn to some external sources of information every once in a while. The winner of the Cold War is yet to be decided but I somehow doubt that you can win any war by pretending it isn't taking place.

In case you want to know what really happened with the Soviet Union, North American media sources will not tell you anything intelligent. Every time I read an article or watch a news segment on the former USSR countries in the US or Canada, I am terrified at the amount of sheer factual errors and ridiculous mistakes that I encounter. I read an article in Montreal's Gazette a few years ago that stated in no uncertain terms that radio was very popular in Russia nowadays because people had no money to buy TV-sets. This made me realize that woeful ignorance and ideological dishonesty of print media journalists makes writing about the former USSR the perfect ground for them to demonstrate their complete lack of investigative integrity. They just write whatever old bunch of lies will make the readers feel more relaxed and happy at any given moment.

In order to answer the question as to what happened to the Soviet Union, I want to give you small snippets from the biographies of the richest and most powerful people in Russia today. Tell me if you find anything these people have in common. I marked the relevant parts with bold type in case you don't feel like reading a lot today.

Vladimir Putin, the President and now the Prime-Minister (and the real ruler) of Russia:
Putin joined the KGB in 1975 upon graduation from university, and underwent a year's training at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Leningrad. He then went on to work briefly in the Second Department (counter-intelligence) before he was transferred to the First Department, where among his duties was the monitoring of foreigners and consular officials in Leningrad, while using the cover of being a police officer with the CID. He served at the Fifth Directorate of the KGB, which combated political dissent in the Soviet Union. He then received an offer to transfer to foreign intelligence First Chief Directorate of the KGB and was sent for additional year long training to the Dzerzhinsky KGB Higher School in Moscow and then in the early eighties—the Red Banner Yuri Andropov KGB Institute in Moscow (now the Academy of Foreign Intelligence).
Mikhail Potanin,  one of Russia's billionaires, former First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.
Potanin was born into a high-ranking communist family. In 1978, Potanin attended the faculty of the International economic relations at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), an elite school that groomed students for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. . . In 1993, Potanin became President of United Export Import Bank. From August 14, 1996 until March 17, 1997 he worked as . Since August 1998, Potanin hold the positions of President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Interros Company. Potanin's Interros owns 25% and controls Russian Nickel giant Norilsk Nickel
Mikhail Khodorkovsky,  is a Russian oligarch and businessman. In 2004, Khodorkovsky was the wealthiest man in Russia, and was 16th on Forbes list of billionaires. Now, this vile criminal is finally in jail.
He succeeded in building a career as a communist functionary. He became deputy head of Komsomol (the Communist Youth League) at his university. The Komsomol career was one of the ways to get into the ranks of communist apparatchiks and to achieve the highest possible living standards. After perestroika started, Khodorkovsky used his connections within the communist structures to gain a foothold in the developing free market. He used the help of some powerful people to start his business activities under the cover of Komsomol. Friendship with another Komsomol leader, Alexey Golubovich, helped him greatly in his further success, since Golubovich's parents held top positions in the State Bank of the USSR.
Alexander Lebedev:  In May 2008, he was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest Russians and as the 358th richest person in the world with an estimated fortune of $3.1 billion. He owns a third of airline Aeroflot, and is part owner of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and owner of four UK newspapers with son Evgeny Lebedev: the London Evening StandardThe Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the new i newspaper. 

In 1977, Alexander Lebedev entered the Department of Economics at Moscow State Institute of International Relations. After he graduated in 1982, Lebedev started work at the Institute of Economics of the World Socialist System doing research for his Kandidat (equal to Ph.D.) dissertation The problems of debt and the challenges of globalization. However he soon transferred to the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) of KGB. He worked there and at its successor Foreign Intelligence Service until 1992. In London he had the diplomatic cover of an economics attaché
Chernomyrdinwas the founder and the first chairman of the Gazprom energy company, the longest serving Prime Minister of Russia (1992–1998) and Acting President of Russia for a day in 1996. He was a key figure in Russian politics in the 1990s, and a great contributor to the Russian transition from a planned to a market economy
Chernomyrdin began developing his career as a politician when he worked for the Communist Party in Orsk between 1967 and 1973. In 1973, he was appointed the director of the natural gas refining plant in Orenburg, a position which he held until 1978. Between 1978 and 1982, Chernomyrdin worked in the heavy industry arm of the Central Committee of the Communist party.
In 1982, he was appointed deputy Minister of the natural gas industries of the Soviet Union. Concurrently, beginning from 1983, he directed Glavtyumengazprom, an industry association for natural gas resource development in Tyumen Oblast. During 1985-1989 he was the Minister of gas industries.

I could continue this list practically ad infinitum but I'm sure that everybody knows what I'm trying to say here.  All of the major politicians and the billionaires in Russia and other former Soviet republics are former high-ranking members of the Communist Party, apparatchiks, and KGB employees. There was never any transfer of power, either politically or  economically. Absolutely the same people (or, rather, families) who ruled us before 1985 are still in power today. And if you want to know how and why that happened, wait for the second part of this post. 


Anonymous said...

Excellent! I am looking forward to Part2.

The only thing I don't agree with is that the North American media make mistakes or lie. I think - no, I am sure that the reporters are simply ignorant. They don't know the subject, so what they write is often ridiculous, as, for example, saying that the 1972 series of hockey games between Team USSR and Team Canada was a clash of 2 ideologies. I have never heard anything more ridiculous than that. Oh yes, I have: the term 'Evil Empire'. Can there be a 'Virtue Empire'? Or is America all about virtue just as the Soviet Union was all about evil?

Thanks a lot, Clarissa!


Clarissa said...

Good observation. "A Virtuous Empire" would be a funny thing to imagine. :-) :-)

Pagan Topologist said...

Hmmm. The French Revolution led to a terrifying experiment called a "Republic of Virtue" as I recall.

I often hear from engineers and scientists that Reagan spent a lot of money on the silly anti-missle defense system he loved so much and the Russians felt they had to keep up and spent their country into bankrupcy. This always seemed somewhat plausible, but not really relevant, somehow.

Clarissa said...

I heard that myth about Reagan too. It's funny, of course, but that's all it is.

I will get to the reasons why the USSR was temporarily disbanded and the political structure temporarily changed in 1991 in the next posts.

One just has to get rid of this US-centric mentality that wants to explain everything through the events in the US. This is simply not about the US.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting read. It's refreshing to see such an account from a person who actually lived there and actually understands what is going on in the part of the world.

Though I must say I am not very shocked. It seems like the people who are at the top always find a way to stay there.

Rimi said...

This is wonderful. I once had a thundering argument with my ex about the Soviet Union. He asked me how India reacted to the 'breakdown' of its ally, I said there was no breakdown in the sense Americans seem to believe there was, and we had a huge political argument over dinner. He's one of those who believe Reagan egged the Soviet Union into a spending bust.

This helps immensley.

el cid said...

I'm currently about halfway through "The Piratization of Russia" by Marshall Goldman, which discusses the Russian conversion to a "free market", as defined by the west. I'm finding it to be quite interesting and obviously distinctly different from the books and articles I've skimmed by Sachs, Schleifer and other advisors to the conversion. He is quite critical (and in my limited view, rightly so) of the way the process was planned and carried out.

As someone with intimate knowledge of the country and its politics, I'm interested in your take on some of Goldman's assertions, if you've read it.