Book Review: In From the Cold

So whilst this book can go some way towards guiding would-be investors to consider the Russian market (by dispelling some of the myths which persist about Russian business following the crazy days of the 1990’s) its real value is as a narrative of the personal experiences of a handful of businessmen (and one journalist) from the last days of the USSR until the end of 2011.

Ben Aris (Chapter One, Russian Growing Pains) is a journalist who now has great experience of Russia and puts his message across in an entertaining way. It is the ideal start to the book. However, as one who tends not to be inspired by charts and graphs in books or presentations, I found that the rest of the first part of the book, Mapping Russia’s Road to Capitalism left me wanting a satellite navigation device to get off the road quicker.

In overly upbeat assessment of corporate governance in Russia (still a serious problem); and a discussion of Russia’s “membership of the BRIC Club” as if there were such a club and it had members (when, in fact, it is simply a supposedly clever acronym but ultimately meaningless title for a non-existent group) also made me want to hurry on.

The general reader will find that after Aris’ excellent opening chapter, he or she may want to turn to Part 2: Pioneering Russia: A Personal Account for a more riveting read. Here are well-written and informative case studies, such as that by Peter Elam Hakansson (Chapter Seven: The Russian Investment Adventure: A Personal Account), which starts on board a Soviet submarine in 1981. Not only is Hakansson’s assessment of the milestones in the post-Soviet business adventure accurate, but his section, Russian Risk: a Misconception (pp140-142) neatly summarises some of the illusions often held by those wrongly scared of the Russian market, concluding, “Many people still believe Russia has significant debt problems. They have completely missed the whole transformation of the Russian economy.”

Ultimately, In From the Cold will be no more than a snapshot of the first 20 years of the post-Soviet Russian economy; such is the problem of trying to hit such a fast-moving target. But the tales of how some succeeded in that period will be very useful as documented accounts of that period for a long time to come.