It was called the “End of History”, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. An event long hoped for in the West but that few expected to ever see. The United States, European Union and Canada all poured billions of dollars into Russia’s development. Russia was invited to join the G7 making it the G8 in 1998. Vladimir Putin became Russia’s Prime Minister in 1999 (the same year NATO expanded into the former East bloc) and its President in 2000.
In the 17 years he has been in power Putin has become more authoritarian, and in Russia at least, more popular. He described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” He hosted the lavish 2014 Sochi Olympics and then seized Crimea from Ukraine. Putin worked with the US to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and then sent his troops to help President Assad maintain grip on power. Now Russia, under Putin, is accused of using its “cyber-power” to undermine the 2016 US Presidential election.
Where is Putin leading Russia? Was the West suffering from post-Cold War naiveté or did it betray Russia by expanding NATO and reaching too far into former USSR territory, such as Ukraine?
To help answer these questions the CIC National Capital Branch is pleased to welcome Stephen Kotkin, a highly sought after Russian specialist: Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton University, director of its Institute for International and Regional Studies and co-director of the Program in the History and Practice of Diplomacy. The New York Times said the just published second volume of his Stalin trilogy Stalin: Waiting for Hitler: “will surely stand for years to come as a seminal account of some of the most devastating events of the 20th century.”
For the past two years, Saudi Arabia has prepared to place its national oil company on the stock market. Officials talked up the Saudi Aramco initial public offering (IPO) with international exchanges and global banks. It seemed like a great idea that the world’s largest oil producing company, valued at $2 trillion, would become the world’s largest ever traded stock.
There are many companies in the world which move and shake markets but perhaps no other organization essential to running a country. Aramco is unique and it runs no ordinary country. Saudi Arabia plays a key role in moving global oil prices. The oil market affects everyone on the planet directly or indirectly. Oil prices have developed and destroyed economies – Sudan and Venezuela being the most recent examples. So that company shedding its cloak of secrecy and deciding to go public is a huge deal. Specially for Saudi Arabia which is run by a monarchy and its affairs cannot be publicly evaluated or scrutinized.
The proposed listing of the national champion was a central part of the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, a reform drive aimed at restructuring the kingdom’s economy and reducing its dependence on oil revenue.
“I think there was a strong case for the IPO and there still is for the selling of a stake of Saudi Aramco and there are lots of reasons for it,” explains Jim Krane, an energy researcher at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. While Saudi Arabia, like other Gulf states have been trying to move away their economies from oil dependency for years, “the specter of climate action has finally made the Saudis get serious about it. And really the only way to diversify is through Aramco and Aramco is the source of revenues that the Saudi state needs to build other economic sectors.”