With her Sale of The Century, The Financial Times’ Chrystia Freeland wrote what is probably the best single book on Russia’s oligarch years. Today the FT is running a must-read piece by her on the battle between Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky now preoccupying Russia. Frankly, I don’t yet know what to make of the story (Khodorkovsky is no saint, and there’s more to this than the simplistic ‘return of the KGB’ story that it is being touted around some places, but at the same time…), but Freeland’s article is an excellent place to begin.
Whatever else he may be, Khodorkovsky is a very bright – and brave – individual. His insights on Russian history (quoted by Freedland) bear repeating.
On Peter the Great:
“We have to remember that under Peter the Great there were 24 million Russians and 300,000 of them died building St Petersburg.
“There were 2 million fewer Russians when Peter the Great died than there had been when he became tsar. We have developed quickly, and we have developed slowly, but in all this time, human life in Russia has not been worth even a kopek.”
On dealing with the Bolsheviks:
“In 1929 and in 1917 people thought, ‘let’s compromise’. It ended with 5 million killed and tens of millions in prison. Our White officers fled the country, not wanting to fight for their rights at home. And how did it end? If they had stayed and fought perhaps 30 million of their fellow citizens would have lived.”
Food for thought, I reckon.