Capitalism in a Cold Climate

The story of Trans World’s aluminum empire is filled with bribes, shell companies, profiteers, and more than a few corpses. Then again, in today’s Russia, that’s pretty much par for the course.

  1. If the Russian aluminum industry had a face, it would look like Lev Chernoy's: corrugated, pockmarked, insulated from the outside world by a metal detector and an army of armed guards. Crippled by polio as a boy, Lev, at 45, still walks with a severe limp and a leg that curls and swings; his eyes are blue coin slots, his hair slicked onto his forehead in a Transylvanian triangle. He's wearing a black suit and smoking a Cohiba.

    "Am I scared of the mafia?" asks Chernoy, smiling. "If I tell you no, it won't be the truth. If I say yes, it's not true either."

    In that single, opaque statement, Chernoy has summed up post-Soviet Russia. Since the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, a struggle has unfolded between the half-formed, often conflicted democratic impulses of the Russian people and the centuries-old criminal subculture that holds an unspoken share of power there. The West greeted the rise of parliamentary democracy in Russia with great enthusiasm--and with grand promises of aid and inv...

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Originally published in Fortune, June 2000

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