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Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia Hardcover – November 6, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Thane Gustafson is the master expert on Russia's vast oil and gas industry. In his latest book, which is meticulously researched and lucidly written, he tells the story of the past two decades as the hydrocarbon-rich Eurasian giant has sought, in fits and starts, to shuck its Soviet past and become a normal, modern nation, integrated into the global economy. (Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution)

Thane Gustafson has seen close up the wrenching challenges in the Russian oil industry. This is an excellent book written from firsthand experience. (Lord Browne of Madingley, Group Chief Executive, BP p.l.c., 1995–2007)

Wheel of Fortune not only provides the most comprehensive history of the Russian oil sector to date, but its greatest virtue is that it places the industry's rise in a broader political and historical context that only a deep observer like Thane Gustafson can provide. (Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order)

A tale of the struggle for power and money in the Russian oil industry—with fateful consequence for both Russia and the world. (Andrew Gould, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Schlumberger Limited)

For specialists in geopolitics or global energy, this exacting and lucid account should be required reading. (Publishers Weekly 2012-10-08)

Gustafson notes that the Russian oil economy is at a crossroads, with no clear signal ahead. It might well revert to state control, or it might become a free-market leader...A useful, readable primer in a specialized but strategically important corner of geopolitics. (Kirkus Reviews 2012-11-01)

Russian oil has had a bumpy ride. The world leader in the 1980s, the industry went into steep decline with the Soviet Union's dismantling in 1991. When the Iron Curtain rose, the state's oilmen--mostly geologists and engineers--were shocked by a global industry rife with lawyers and traders. Now oil and roubles shunt through the pipelines of new Russia but the relationship between state and industry is often explosive. Energy-policy analyst Thane Gustafson reveals Vladimir Putin's pivotal role, the effects of the 2008 crash, and the complex currents and uncertain future of regional oil. (Nature 2012-11-22)

Few have studied the Russian oil and gas industry longer or with a broader political perspective than Gustafson. The result is this superb book, which is not merely a fascinating, subtle history of the industry since the Soviet Union's collapse but also the single most revealing work on Russian politics and economics published in the last several years. (Robert Legvold Foreign Affairs 2013-01-01)

Gustafson has made an important contribution to the study of Russian capitalism. (Y. Polsky Choice 2013-04-01)

Thane Gustafson's Wheel of Fortune is the fullest account so far of Russian oil in the 1990s and 2000s...Wheel of Fortune is...built on an impressive grasp of the way the Russian oil industry works. But its arguments also have a wider relevance for understanding the country's post-Soviet fortunes...What Wheel of Fortune describes is not so much the displacement of private companies by a state-led model as the creation of a new hybrid form...This blurring of the personnel, motivations and strategic orientations of state and private sectors is the hallmark of contemporary Russian capitalism. No one reading this book could think the Soviet system is simply being re-created under Putin: the most likely outcome of another round of privatizations, it suggests, is a concerted attempt by the state-business elite to turn the companies it controls into private property. (Tony Wood London Review of Books 2013-06-06)

The history of Russia's oil industry since the collapse of communism is the history of the country itself. There can be few better guides to this terrain than Thane Gustafson, a professor of government at Georgetown University who has been studying Russia and global oil for more than three decades. His Wheel of Fortune stands out amid a series of recent books on Russia, combining meticulous research with a storyteller's gift. (Neil Buckley Financial Times 2013-06-01)

Thane Gustafson has produced what will surely be the definitive work on this subject...For the past twenty years Gustafson has shuttled back and forth to Russia, getting to know many of the key players. Having been present at the creation, he is uniquely placed to combine an insider's knowledge of how the industry works with academic analytical skills and a sophisticated understanding of Russian culture and politics. (Peter Rutland Times Literary Supplement 2013-07-14)

A thorough history...of the symbiosis of oil and politics since the unraveling of the Soviet Union. Gustafson masterfully cuts through the confusion of the immediate post-Soviet period to distil a clear narrative about the struggles of the first Russian oil majors and the oligarchs who came to control them; the contributions and failures of international investment in Russia's oil sector; the genesis of energy-attuned leaders; and the evolution of the institutions regulating the sector today. After four decades of studying Soviet/Russian politics and a concurrent two decades of leading IHS CERA's Russian and Caspian energy consulting team, Gustafson has a rare combination of academic understanding and industry acumen, which informs a top-notch analysis of the forces shaping Russia's current economic and political trajectory. The book takes readers through stories of a motley cast of characters: from a handful of obscure Siberian oil generals who inherited control of prize fields, to budding businessmen who rose to become some of the richest in Russia, to public servants for the city of St. Petersburg who came to dominate the country's political machine. Gustafson's research draws on scores of personal interviews with key government and industry players over 20 years. With a keenly observant eye, Gustafson tracks the impact that each of these individuals had on the course of development of the oil industry and its relationship with the political apparatus.
(Catherine Yusupov International Affairs 2013-07-01)

About the Author

Thane Gustafson is Professor of Government at Georgetown University and Senior Director of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (November 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674066472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674066472
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Igor Biryukov on January 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Gustafson's Magnum Opus is well-informed and meticulously researched. He has 100 pages of wonderful endnotes. It's a sizable book -- it took me a month to complete it. It ends with a question mark -- and I like that. It is not a usual journalistic "hack-job", in which the US / UK authors often excel when writing on Russia (see for example "New Cold War" by Edward Lucas and dozens of other pulp). Gustafson is a serious academic who probably used to work for the US intelligence as an analyst writing report on the Soviet energy sector.

The book shows Gustafson's substantial knowledge of the petroleum industry as well Russia itself. His knowledge of the details is so amazing that it prompted me to mention the intelligence community link above. He has a number of anecdotes and personal observations to offer. His perspective is American, not Russian; but I think he did his best to be in the Russian shoes -- which is not easy (believe me, I lived in Russia for 30 years).

To me the book was a breath of fresh air because of its "realist" position. Many Anglo-American authors show Russia's "Petrocracy" as a threat to America's interests. Neoconservative think tanks and other organizations keep harping that Russia is sliding into "despotism" and continue blackening Russia's image by churning up a distorted coverage of critical events and policies. Soon after Khodorkovsky was arrested on charges of multiple fraud and tax evasion back in 2003, numerous publications and articles with titles such as "Russia on Trial" and "The Kremlin's Mafia" appeared to promote the image of Khodorkovsky as a courageous opposition leader acting to challenge "despotic" Kremlin.

I am skeptical about that image. So appears to be Mr.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael C. Walker on January 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Most people might not expect a book on the recent history of post-Soviet Russian oil business to be a real page-turner, especially not one over 600 pages long, but this book is just that. Well-written with a true expert voice by Dr. Thane Gustafson (a professor of governmental studies but has long had an emphasis in his research on Russian oil exploration, production, and policy), this book looks at how the Russian oil industry recovered from the fall of the Soviet Union, opened itself to private investment and outside collaboration, and experienced a multitude of ups and downs all along the way. Dr. Gustafson's acumen in this area—and his access to key figures for interviews—are one aspect that make the book worthwhile but he's also a talented storyteller and is able to keep the narrative moving along by introducing the colorful characters of oligarchs and oil barons, former government ministers and engineers in the storm of a changing Russia. All these folks are/were real people and in many ways, their story of post-Soviet industry will leave you wondering aloud how in the world one of the greatest oil-producing powers the earth has ever seen became such a circus for over a decade. I highly recommend it to all interested in post-Soviet economies, the oil business in general, or Russian business/politics.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By O&G executive on March 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thane masterfully succeeded in uncovering the fundamental drivers of the Russian oil industry and its interdependency with the political complex through a comprehensive and convincing historical analysis, with plenty of meaningful insights and endearing anecdotes. Rooted in Soviet legacy and having gone through the 90s bust-boom roller coaster and 2000s state reconsolidation the industry is a unique globally isolated eco system, and, with Russia as a whole, is at a crossroads. A must read for any decision maker in the O&G business.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William A. Thayer on December 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Yes, I know that Russia has a lot of oil and gas. But this book gives the details and the problems that the Russian energy industry faces. Great detail that I have been unable to find elsewhere.
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Format: Hardcover
The main thesis of this book is that Russia will collapse again. Soon. Unless Russia drills offshore and in the Arctic with Western oil company help. Western Siberian oil is declining. Eastern Siberia doesn’t have much oil – just 800,000 barrels per day at most --and doesn’t have the required infrastructure of roads, pipelines, cities, towns, etc.

Gustafson is aware of how hard drilling in the arctic will be (though not the ecological consequences). An ExxonMobil engineer he interviews about the issues of the Sakhalin Island area said that the “biggest challenge was moving ice. The whole ice pack drifts along, and if you haven’t built for it, it will drag your whole platform away”. Also, it gets to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit, storms create waves over 30 feet high, there are frequent earthquakes, and most difficult of all is managing the thousands of skilled specialists from hundreds of contractors and subcontractors from all over the world.

Gustafson ultimately sees a new round of conflict for control and distribution of the oil revenue spoils, resulting in renationalization, sinking oil returns, and Russia sliding deeper and deeper into debt. The only way he sees out of this is Arctic & offshore drilling, reducing welfare payments to citizens, more privatization, encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, and other Capitalistic ideas. Surely he realizes this isn’t likely given that he says the current Russian culture and political system “is based largely on a rejection of the 1990s, nostalgia for the Soviet empire, and resentment of the West”.
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