When my mother, grandmother and I left Moscow and came to America in 1976, we were amazed at the abundance of consumables. The stores not only have toothpaste and toilet paper, but also many brands. No more queuing for meat! Or butter. Or shoes. Or anything else. Bananas, a luxury item that was hard to get in the Soviet Union, were a supermarket staple in the United States. But the thing that stuck with me the most as a child was the deep-fried food I discovered at a high-end food temple called McDonald’s. I have never enjoyed a French Fry or a Big Mac before! I was in a kid’s paradise.
ten years later, people who still live in Moscow can taste the Big Macs and fries for themselves. The first McDonald’s opened in Pushkin Square in 1990 – a sign of the Soviet Union’s transition to a Western capitalist society. So what does it say about the current state of Russia that McDonald’s announced it was shutting down operations at its 850 Russian restaurants?
With his barbaric invasion of Ukraine, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has “rewinded” more than 30 years of Russian history. In just a few weeks, Russia has moved from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, and its economy has been disconnected from the West. This isn’t Punishment at all – Putin doesn’t put millions in the game – but it’s definitely Opposition. Now, the most heavily sanctioned country in the world, Russia is returning to the old-fashioned and draconian way my family fled in 1976.
In the West, both the left and the right have revived “globalization”. Well, Russia today is a case study of what happens when a country “de-globalizes”. The Russians not only lost access to McDonald’s but also Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Ikea, Visa, Mastercard, Apple, Goldman Sachs and all the rest. The stock market is closed. The ruble is in free fall. There is a possibility of default. There are long lines as Western stores close, and grocery stores are splitting flour and sugar. Putin is threatening to nationalize the assets of Western companies that are leaving Russia. If he carries out his threat, very few Western companies are likely to come back.
Life probably hasn’t changed much yet – for most ordinary Russians, but it is a traumatic upheaval for the urban middle class. They accepted Putin’s lawless rule because they believed he would bring stability and prosperity after the tumultuous 1990s. They can live with not choosing their own leader if, in exchange, they can choose any vacation spot in the world. The richest Russians – the oligarchs – live in the Gucci bubble: In return for supporting Putin, they have to accumulate huge fortunes in the West. Now, their yacht is being confiscated, and they are seeing all the downsides of Putin’s gentle rule without any upside.
Putin is suppressed dissent, removed the last vestiges of a free press, and banned US social media sites. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, there were always Western reporters in Russia. However, now Western news agencies are shutting down and very few independent sources of reporting remain.
The lies of Putin’s minions will make Stalin blush: The US is training migratory birds to fly from Ukraine to Russia to distribute “bactericidal weapons”. Ukrainian victims of Russian bombing are “actors of the crisis”. The Ukrainians are shelling their own cities. The Russian foreign minister even denied that Russia attacked Ukraine. Now, calling war a crime in Russia.
Presiding over this disaster is the most powerful and most isolated Russian leader since Stalin. Putin meets fewer of his aides face-to-face. He is said to spend most of his time at a sprawling complex between Moscow and St Petersburg with a private solarium, bowling alley, golf course, swimming pool and sauna where he can relax vent his grievances in solitude.
He seems to see himself as another great emperor – the second incarnation of Peter the Great – resurrecting the Russian empire. In fact, he is destroying not only Ukraine but also Russia in pursuit of his maddening dream of imperial glory.
Having witnessed the bleak, depressing events of recent weeks, I am deeply grateful for the late mother who brought me out of the Soviet Union. I grieve for all those who are still trapped in Putin’s prison.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/putin-is-turning-russia-back-into-the-country-i-escaped-41446979.html Putin is turning Russia back into the country I escaped from