UA-34158173-1 Kopecs and Big Macs — Russia’s Move to a Market Economy
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Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the winter of 1991, the newly-formed Russian Federation took on the challenge of creating a market-oriented economy from the world’s largest state-controlled economy. President Yeltsin’s economic reforms led to hyperinflation and loss of financial security for many who had depended on state pensions, and Russia’s GDP contracted an estimated 40 percent in seven years.

Adding to the complexity of making this transition was Russia’s decision to settle the USSR’s huge external debts. State enterprises were privatized and foreign investment encouraged, but changes in elements needed to support this transition, such as commercial banking and laws, did not keep pace.

Nonetheless, many Russians did prosper in the new economic environment and by the mid-1990s were enjoying the same luxury brands and fast food as their Western counterparts. Most notably, the first McDonald’s opened in the USSR on January 31, 1990.

A number of U.S. entrepreneurs saw the newly-opened market as a business opportunity, but the obstacles were daunting. Russian Federation officials tried to maintain control of parts of the market and imposed protectionist measures that made it harder for U.S. investors to operate. Some could not make a profit and were forced to give up.

Thomas Pickering, U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 1993-1996, watched this economic transformation unfold from a unique perspective. In his 2003 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy, he recalls the U.S. role in Russia’s post-Soviet transition.

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