The immigration officer at Sheremetyevo took my passport and studied it for some time. He didn’t say anything; he just thumbed through the passport and then looked at a computer screen for a couple of lifetimes before stamping it and grunting me on to customs.
The KGB was still manning the borders the first time I went to Moscow shortly after the fall of Communism. Letting Americans walk freely into Mother Russia without official surveillance was driving the man crazy but he had to keep a lid on it.
In fact, Communism had been officially dead for only a few months when the shock troops of capitalism started storming the gates of opportunity in the former Soviet Union. The ghosts of Marx, Lenin and Stalin stalked the halls of the Politburo in horror as entrepreneurs from the United States, Japan and Western Europe tried to cut deals for every asset in Mother Russia that wasn’t nailed down. Banking, hospitality, timber and precious metals came under assault by peculiar partnerships of western capitalists and thugs from the once mighty KGB. During those early years, when Yeltsin (God love him) and his vodka were in office, it was a free-for-all.
The Oklahoma land rush of the 1890s had nothing on Moscow in 1992.
But even then, the oil industry stayed under control of the state—directly or indirectly. In fact, as recently as 2003, the bare-chested former KGB colonel and current premier—soon to be president of Russia . . . again—Vladimir Putin squashed a buyout deal between Russia’s Yukos and Exxon, the largest company in the world.
To understand the reason for this, we return momentarily to the early days of the Cold War when an isolated Soviet Union tasked their top scientists to identify the actual source of oil. Not a weekend homework assignment. After considerable research, in 1956, Russian scientist Professor Vladimir Porfir’yev announced that “crude oil and natural petroleum gas have no intrinsic connection with biological matter originating near the surface of the earth. They are primordial [originating with the earth’s formation] materials which have been erupted from great depths.”
If your eyeballs didn’t fall out when you read that, you might want to read it again.
He said oil doesn’t come from anything biologic, not, as conventional wisdom dictates, from the fossilized remains of dinosaurs and/or ancient plant matter. It comes from very deep in the earth and is created by a biochemical reaction that subjected hydrocarbons (elements having carbon and hydrogen) to extreme heat and intense pressure during the earth’s formation.