By James Petras
Introduction: The US-EU sponsored coup in the Ukraine and its conversion from a stable Russian trading partner, to a devastated EU economic client and NATO launch pad, as well as the subsequent economic sanctions against Russia for supporting the Russian ethnic majority in the Donbas region and Crimea, illustrate the dangerous vulnerability of the Russian economy and state.
The current effort to increase Russia’s national security and economic viability in the face of these challenges requires a critical analysis of the policies and structures emerging in the post-Soviet era.
Pillage as Privatization
Over the past quarter century, several trillion dollars worth of public property in every sector of the Russian economy was illegally transferred or violently seized by gangster-oligarchs acting through armed gangs, especially during its ‘transition to capitalism’.
From 1990 to 1999, over 6 million Russian citizens died prematurely as a result of the catastrophic collapse of the economy; life expectancy for males declined from 67 years during the Soviet era to 55 year during the Yeltsin period. Russia’s GNP declined sixty percent – a historic first for a country not at war. Following Yeltsin’s violent seizure of power and his bombing of the Russian parliament, the regime proceeded to ‘prioritize’ the privatization of the economy, selling off the energy, natural resources, banking, transport and communication sectors at one-tenth or less of their real value to well-connected cronies and foreign entities. Armed thugs, organized by emerging oligarchs “completed” the program of privatization by assaulting, murdering and threatening rivals. Hundreds of thousands of elderly pensioners were tossed out of their homes and apartments in a vicious land-grab by violent property speculators. US and European academic financial consultants “advised” rival oligarchs and government ministers on the most “efficient” market techniques for pillaging the economy, while skimming off lucrative fees and commissions –fortunes were made for the well-connected. Meanwhile, living standards collapsed, impoverishing two thirds of Russian households, suicides quadrupled and deaths from alcoholism, drug addiction, HIV and venereal diseases became rampant. Syphilis and tuberculosis reached epidemic proportions – diseases fully controlled during the Soviet era remerged with the closure of clinics and hospitals.
Of course, the respectable western media celebrated the pillage of Russia as the transition to “free elections and a free market economy”. They wrote glowing articles describing the political power and dominance of gangster oligarchs as the reflection of a rising “liberal democracy”.