Part of The Best Books of 2012 on Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Republics

Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia

Few have studied the Russian oil and gas industry longer or with a broader political perspective than Gustafson. The result is this superb book, which is not merely a fascinating, subtle history of the industry since the Soviet Union’s collapse but also the single most revealing work on Russian politics and economics published in the last several years. Gustafson argues that beginning around 2002, as the Russian state recovered its footing and the golden goose of oil grew fat on explosive price increases, a political face-off between the oil moguls and the power elite surrounding President Vladimir Putin became more or less inevitable—as did its out-come in favor of the latter. However, he writes, oil rents are destined to shrink, and because they are the Russian system’s lifeblood, the system cannot be maintained. Gustafson concludes by describing three potential responses to the perils of Russia’s oil addiction: “high tech modernization,” a “return to market reform,” and “stay the course.” Russia, he warns, can avert a grim future only if it combines elements of all three.

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